Iterate and release often

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You’ve spent the last six months or more working on a major overhaul of your app. You’ve refreshed the UI. Improved the app icon. You’ve even added a bunch of new features and removed the crusty old stuff that no one ever uses. You release it expecting universal praise. Instead, you're met with a barrage of angry tweets and a bunch of 1-star reviews from your once happy users.

What Went Wrong?

It turns out most users don’t like it when an app gets drastically overhauled behind their backs. They launch the app to do the thing they always do, and because everything is new and different, they have to stop and think. It adds an extra cognitive load that shouldn't be there. They are forced to relearn parts of the app they felt they already knew.

When you look at this from a customers perspective, it’s no wonder they get annoyed and confused when things get changed without good reason or warning.

Some users love change, but they are often much less vocal than the ones you’ve upset. Negative feedback can throw you off as you scramble to course correct and make your users happy again.

Even Apple gets it wrong sometimes. The redesign of iMovie, Numbers, Pages, and iOS 7 spring to mind. Most users would have been much happier with incremental changes made over many years. Users avoided updating to iOS 7 because they don’t want the new look. Had Apple done this design change incrementally users would have stayed happy and kept upgrading? Instead, it created a polarising effect, some users loved it while others hated it. It's only now that iOS 9 is almost upon us that a lot of the holdouts will finally upgrade. Significant changes are hard to get right.

As developers and designers we love to wow customers with a brand new version of our products, but most of the time that’s not what users want. Users like frequent, incremental updates that improve their productivity without breaking anything. Big updates are the exact opposite of what customers want.

I had first-hand experience of this when Realmac launched RapidWeaver 6.0 late last year. It was a massive update and overhauled a lot of things within the app, including the UI. Some users were happy, but of course, there was a significant portion of users that weren't too happy with such drastic changes. We've since moved to releasing a few updates a month, with almost weekly public betas. Our users love this, and we've been getting more praise than ever before.

Final Thoughts

When trying to improve the design and experience of an app, you should keep in mind your existing user base, and think about what they want. Most of the time, it's not a fancy redesign. We're all guilty of doing redesigns because we believe that's what users want. But honestly, smaller incremental changes will win the hearts of your users. If you’re about to embark on a significant update to your app, here are some things to consider.

  • Make more incremental changes, and release often
  • Don’t remove features unless you have to
  • Consider doing an early public beta so users can follow along with the changes as you make them
  • Don’t change things for the sake of change
  • It’s easy to think you know best, but listen to your users. If they are all saying the same thing, give them what they want

To keep all of your users happy you should refine, adjust, and improve things over time. Never remove features unless you honestly believe it's the right thing to do.

Consistent updates give customers a sense that the app is cared for, alive, and still being worked on. If you go off the grid for twelve months developing the next big update users will assume development has stopped.

Regular, incremental updates are a win for everyone. Tweak and improve your app gradually. Your users will love you for it.

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