What's your big idea?What better inspiration to draw on than your own experiences and frustrations? If you add research and context you’re off to a good start.

So how can you pin down your own big idea?

Many successful apps solve a problem, increase productivity or provide individual and/or shared entertainment (e.g. games).

Even within the Facebook phenomenon, numerous other developers have made their mark developing companion apps. And what do many of them have in common? They are enhancements born out of a personal desire to do something differently or better, while using the social network.

For maximum impact, your app should be:

  • Something that hasn’t been done before;
  • Something that meets an unfulfilled need; or
  • A significant improvement on something that already exists.

Don’t be downhearted if that light-bulb moment doesn’t come straight away, or if your idea doesn’t take off as you’d expected. There are bound to more first-time failures than successes, but think of this as a learning experience and don’t be afraid to give something a go.

“If you always make the right decision, the safe decision, the one most people make, you will be the same as everyone else.” ― Paul Arden (advertising guru)

Where to look for inspiration

Necessity is the mother of invention, so for your starting point think about the things that irritate or hamper you in a typical day – information you can’t easily get at, niggling frustrations at work or as you travel.

Local authoritiesare actively encouraging people to create apps that improve public services and making data sets readily available to would-be developers. Bristol City Council, for example, has made multiple datasets publicly available on These cover everything from data on bus stops with raised kerbs, to the latest air and river pollution measurements.

Consider your hobbies too, and those of your friends. Perhaps you know someone who’s struggling to set up a book club or walking group, organise a car or babysitting pool, or find a local dance partner. Maybe there’s a local fishing club who needs more environmental information to more effectively manage river stocks. Once you’ve pinpointed a user group and possible data sets, you can get down to the real creativity – designing a transformational app that looks sharp and is intuitive to use.

If gaming is your focus, the sky’s the limit. The idea might come straight from a dream, or from a child in the family. Or what about your favourite TV programme? With growing interest in the so-called ‘second-screen’ experience, many broadcasters and content makers are now looking to develop play-along apps to engage and expand their audience. Drawing on your passion as a Torchwood or Top Gear devotee, you could be just the person to help.

Ask around

“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas” – Linus Pauling (US chemist & pacifist, 1901 – 1994).

There’s nothing like a good brainstorming session to get the creative juices flowing, so why not organise a focus group made up of a few of your friends, family members or work colleagues – the more varied in interests, the better.

It will help to have a starting point for your idea – even if it’s very broad, such as helping people get to work on time. Generate conversations around this topic – viewing the situation from different angles. Write everything down, however bizarre, and then review – a bit like they do on The Apprentice.

The more ideas, the better – out of 100 ideas only a handful may be viable. It could take several focus groups to hone an idea fully.

Use the tools

Often the very tools you’re building with can provide inspiration. The design framework for Windows apps has been created with the specific goal to inspire developers – by helping them to create successful motion-sensitive/gesture-driven Windows Phone and Windows 8 experiences suitable for even the smallest devices.

Download the Windows 8 Release Preview



Published by Johnny Raper

Johnny is a London-based front-end developer, who enjoys writing semantic code and making pages look pretty. He has a design and e-learning background and is far too pixel-perfect for his own good! Aside from web development he also has a penchant for music and photography.

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