App Planning, Mobile Application, UX Development & Design

Q&A with LunarLab’s Elizabeth Anderson: Custom apps and where to start

Beginning development of a custom application often seems simple and straightforward. A problem has been defined and technology is the solution, but there is so much more to it than that. 


At MotionMobs, development of apps is usually described through the metaphor of building a house. Building something strong, stable, and beautiful requires a significant amount of time in the design and planning of it. How will the client and all of their users download the app and find value in using it? It is crucial to have the application designed and strategically planned, like blueprints, to know how to build and develop an application that reaches its goals. 


As experts in varying tech stacks and platforms, MotionMobs works closely with designers to plan the look and feel of the application, or in more technical terms, the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) designs. 


LunarLab is a strategic partner to MotionMobs for this stage of development. LunarLab specializes in helping clients design and plan applications that help define development expectations. As a Birmingham-based and woman-founded and woman-owned business like MotionMobs, LunarLab takes pride in how they empower businesses to leverage designs for successful development. MotionMobs CEO, Jennifer Fisher, sat down with LunarLab’s Co-Founder and CEO, Elizabeth Anderson, to talk about design planning and how crucial it is for development.

Why is it necessary to work with a UX designer and with a developer? Don’t they both accomplish the same thing?

There can be a lot of overlap between design teams and development teams. In fact, our Co-Founder Kelli often says that anyone who is making design decisions about a product is a designer—no matter their job title! The difference between a UX designer and a developer comes down to specialization. A designer can help you create something that is intuitive, user-friendly, increases user acquisition or engagement, connects with people, and that achieves specific business goals. Meanwhile, a developer can take those designs and build something that is secure, highly functional, fast, high quality, and that meets the latest tech specifications.

Building software is a lot like building a home. You might have architects, foundation specialists, construction crews, general contractors, and interior decorators. All of those unique roles are important because they achieve specific purposes during the building process. If you’re building a house, you want to have great architecture and great construction, and those aren’t typically done by the same person. It’s the same with building software: having great design and great development are the best way to get a high quality product.

What is the number one thing every client must have before the process of designing their application?

Before designing an application, it’s important to have a good sense of who the product is for and how it will help them. The wonderful thing about tech is that we can build anything…. but that’s also one of the dangers of tech. 99 percent of startups fail, often because they’ve built a product that doesn’t connect with end users. And we’ve all used clunky enterprise software that makes your day measurably worse. Those products that fail are often built without understanding their users before design or development starts. Validation is essential.


Before designing or building anything, we always recommend determining who the product is for, how they will use it, and what they want to get out of it. Conducting well-planned user research can help you to understand even more deeply to make sure you’re building the right thing. Sometimes we hear people say that they don’t have the time or budget to do user research. But do you really have the time or budget to build a failed product? Doing the early steps of validation can save an enormous amount of time and money, and significantly decrease risk.

What are important factors to consider in design prior to development?

Design isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. There are tons of best practices out there and things that have been successful for other apps, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be right for you. There are also lots of flashy design trends that look cool, but they aren’t the right thing for your app. For example, swiping interactions are really fun in Tinder, but they’re probably not right for a healthcare app.


Before you start development, make sure the designs are right for your unique application. The designs should be tightly aligned to your specific business goals and your users’ specific needs. All of the designs should match your company’s brand and voice, and they should be created in such a way to help you achieve measurable ROI when you start development.


Finally, you want to make sure that the designs are delivered in a way that sets the development team up for success. A couple of PDFs aren’t going to cut it here. We like using developer-friendly tools like Figma to deliver designs. Just like if you were building a house, you’ll want to provide a blueprint rather than doodles on a napkin. Tools like Figma provide all of the developer-friendly information they need to match the designs perfectly. We have also found that having a design system in place separate from the design team makes development significantly faster, cheaper, and lower risk.

What have you seen successful clients do with their designs prior to development?

We work with businesses of all sizes, and there are so many ways that designs are used before development even starts.


For startups, we’ve seen founders successfully use mockup designs in their pitch decks to tell the story of their idea and raise millions in funding. We’ve also had startup founders take mockups to conferences or customer meetings to generate interest from early adopters. Great visuals in those early stages can help investors see that you’ve really got your idea buttoned up and you’re ready to move to the next stage.


For larger enterprise businesses, business leaders typically take mockups or designs to their boards or internal teams to get approval and the budget to start development. They may take these designs to their internal or external development teams to start estimating or creating a timeline. They sometimes also use designs in their marketing materials to generate customer interest about what’s coming next.


For businesses at all stages, designs are great for validation. Early-stage startups can validate their idea, and enterprise businesses can validate a feature set before they spend thousands of dollars on it. Some businesses use low-fidelity wireframes, others use high-fidelity mockups, and others use clickable prototypes. All of these can be created by a high-quality design team.

How can developers (like ourselves) be participants or proactive during the design process?

We love it when developers are active participants in the design process! LunarLab uses a collaborative design process, which means that we think the best way to get great designs is by having many voices involved. The best part about having developer voices in the design process is that we can learn whether the designs are technically feasible. Developers also help us to make sure that our designs stay within budget. If we’re designing a solution that’s really complicated but the customer doesn’t have the budget for it, knowing that will help us design a less technically complex solution. Finally, developers can help us to brainstorm new feature ideas based on their knowledge of the technology.


The best way for developers to stay involved is to show up and speak up. We really like it when developers are confident and assertive in telling us their needs and ask questions when they need clarity, especially around the deliverables. We always want to set the development team up for success, so it’s helpful for us to know exactly what is needed to meet their goals.

Curious about how development impacts design? Our CEO, Jennifer Fisher, also answered questions about the importance of design and its ability to lead to powerful development on LunarLab’s blog.

By Jennifer Fisher