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December 6th, 2020

A simple app idea for the creative developer – an ideas generator

If you’re just starting out as an app developer, your first app needn’t necessarily be revolutionary or complicated. You can build something simple relatively quickly, but still deliver value and a decent experience for your potential audience. How? By leveraging your skills in other avenues.

I’m going to step through a simple app idea that could be particularly suitable for the creative developers among us: an ideas generator. Where the content is king and the app itself need only be a basic shell to serve this content.

What do I mean by “creative” developer? I’m referring specifically to developers with an interest and/or talent in: writing, illustration, concept art, music, painting — that kind of thing.

Building an ideas generator app for writers

There are many “writing prompt” style apps out there.

The idea here would be to have an API serving a simple app that allows the user to simply scroll through different prompt ideas and suggestions in order to inspire short stories or paintings, or other works of fiction.

To build such an app in its most basic form, there is not a great deal of complexity. However, you’ll be needing a decent amount of content to serve the app with.

writing prompt apps in the play store
A selection of “writing prompt” style apps on the Play store

This is where your skills as a writer could come in handy. And this is what could set your app aside from the other similar apps.

There are three main components to an app such as this one:

1. The app itself

First and foremost, the app itself. As stated, something basic would be sufficient, you may only need a few different pages. However, you’ll definitely want to ensure that your app looks aesthetically pleasing and is simple to use!

Similarly, you’ll need to come up with some nice branding and a logo. You’ll want to ensure that your app looks unique, distinctive and is appealing to potential users.

ReactNative is a good choice here. Especially for those already familiar with JavaScript. It’s easy to work with, has a lot of documentation as well as a large, thriving community. Outside of that, there are many reusable packages and libraries to further simplify your life as a developer.

2. The API

You’ll need a basic API to serve your content (your prompts) to the app.

From within your app, your users will be accessing this endpoint and retrieving the prompt data before storing/caching it on their device for a given duration.

I’ve written an article on this topic — Caching API data in your React Native Android app. It’s fairly specific to React Native in places, but the principles would be the same for other tech, too.

Depending on the amount of data you are serving up — one endpoint may be sufficient at first, to simply grab all of the prompts in random order, for example. As your content collection expands, however, you’ll likely want to think about chunking down the content into smaller payloads or to manage this data retrieval in some other way.

You’ll likely want to secure the API in some way, also, to ensure it’s not directly accessible via the web. Using an API key should be sufficient to handle this for now, but there are of course many other avenues you could consider in this regard, too. But that’s a topic for another day.

In terms of good tech to use for this API, anything you are comfortable with would most likely be sufficient – but I’ve found node & express is always a solid choice.

3. The content

Last but not least, the actual content.

This could be seen as the most crucial aspect of you app. Not that the other components aren’t important — they definitely are. But the content is what will set your app apart from other similar apps, and it’s what will keep your users coming back to the app time and time again!

evocative image from unsplash
You can use evocative images such as this one to inspire your readers (source: unsplash)

The caveat here is, although the app itself is quick to build – you’ll need a lot of content to launch with. I’d personally aim for around 200-300 distinctive pieces to begin with.

If you take a look through some of the “writing prompt” style apps on the Play store, you’ll see that the prompts typically tend to range from 2-5 sentences in length, so this would be a good length to aim for.

So, with that said, 200 to 300 pieces may sound like a lot of content, and it is — but remember that this will be the main selling point for your app. The distinctive, creative prompts are what will drive the users to download (and positively rate!) your app.

If your app will include images, there are plenty of resources out there where you can obtain those (unsplash, for example).

However, always make sure that the images are freely available to reuse in your app!

Repurposing the app

Using the app as a basis for your next app

Once you’ve created you app and you’re serving it with API data, you’ll have the necessary framework in place to reproduce the same idea — but for an entirely different audience.

Your first app may target writers.

Your second app may use a different endpoint to access a different set of data, and this app may target concept artists or illustrators.

The only other aspects you’ll need to adjust would be: the actual name of the app, the logo, and the branding. Of course, you’ll also need another big chunk of content to serve up for your new target audience (concept artists/illustrators for example) — but you can see how utilizing this initial framework should provide a solid basis on which to efficiently expand your portfolio of apps.

Using the API to serve a website

Of course, now that you have a clean and easily accessible data source (your API) – you can easily reuse this in other formats.

You could create a web-based equivalent to your app that contains similar functionality. Most of the heavy lifting in this sense is already done; the content is available and the API is there, too. So it would just be a matter of coming up with a clean and aesthetically pleasing web interface (likely one that would match the theme/branding of your app) and go from there.

Thanks for reading!

Have any questions? Ping me over at @justacodingblog
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