This guide will advise to about central steps to enable you to build an app to allow smartphone or other personal device interaction with your audience.

An app can be rather passive or active, intrusive or indifferent as to user lifestyle, But special as it may potentially be a tool for your user/audience as much as for you – and have great potential for user interaction also. Apps can be expensive to create, hard to maintain, and the solution to all your answers at the same time.

1. Functionality vs. Content
If your are considering to build an app the first thing you should think about is functionality. What function(s) would you have the app provide for your users? And what kind of use would to hope for (see evaluation also)?

A calculator – advanced maybe? Shortcuts – introducing targeted information? Selfmonitoring – with or without dynamic feedback? In many ways you can create more or less any kind of functionality in a smartphone, tablet, or smartwatch-app – but you should think about the app as a tool you are building for the sake of your users rather than for your own (communicative?) purposes.

Becauses, essentially, if you are only interested in providing information (however well displayed) then perhaps building a website optimized for mobile devices would be easier and cheaper.

If you’re not sure at this point we would recommend you wait till the idea and service you want to create become clearer – feel free to be inspired (within limits) by other apps. And of course look at the guidelines on the five minor ailments to consider how an app can support the specific acts of self-care acts you can read about here here – or read more about preparing communication here.

2. Involving your users / Health Literacy
Apps potentially provide you with a direct and personal interface with your target audience. So even more, involving them in your process and regarding their health literacy should be very high on your list of considerations when creating – or updating – an app.

Read more about health literacy here.

3. Design/Budget/Development
There are a lot of great tools that can help you create an app. So far however, most are still rather advanced – platform software and hardware are still evolving and giving both more options, but also questions for you to consider. What if you can measure heart rate – should you? What if you can transform the app to be used in automobiles – should you? What if 30% of your users have changed their device to a different platform – should you?

A lot of these questions are of course for the future – you just have to try. And try again. But you should of course consider whether your budget can carry not only the present situation but a lot of add-ons and tweaks and… An app can become obsolete just as quickly as a leaflet.

4. Distribution/Presence
The bacic distribution channels of apps are rather obvious. But they are only a first step. Having your app ready and possible for download doesn’t ensure users. So just as (indeed even more so) with a website, creation is only half the challenge – getting users to know and download your app (and use it) will require even more hard work.

Where can you get your app reviewed (magazines, other websites, app of the month). Who can be your partners or champions in your distribution? How can you interact with your users to get them to create a word of mouth? Any and all of these options should be used in some form – because just decorating the shop and opening the door is not enough to ensure your target audience will come running.

In networks for communication or health care professionals you might find seminars, workshops, or similar knowledge sharing communities – this might be an idea to expand your understanding of the possibilities. If you are a happy users of a similar app yourself, perhaps approach the developers of this app to learn more?

5. Effect/Evaluation
Well basically, someone has to want to use your app. And of course not only download it, but use its different functions. A high number of downloads might not be the only way to measure success – you can/should consider how else interaction with your app might measure into your evaluation – the results (in anonymous form) of the self monitoring feature, perhaps? Number or type of case stories provided by users? Some effects can be quantitative, other may be qualitative – both are important.

Even with a high number of happy users – are you really promoting self care? Or are you, perhaps, just promoting a better conscience or actually taking way initiative (“Well I’ve downloaded this app – problem solved”)? Engage with your users to learn more. Read more about evaluation here.

Searching in app stores can give you many insights – both about how to promote your own app, and the difficulties users can have finding it. But with copying any specific app, we can recommend to try to look at similar self care apps, such as these from the UK.