How To: Build & Launch a Design Centric Web App

Categories Articles, Web Design

If you have an idea for a web app and you don’t believe that it will be successful or you don’t think you have the time to build it, think again. It’s possible!

We invited Stu Green of Haloweb and Great Web Apps to share with us how he built a web app to meet a particular need and launch it successfully in just three months.

The Story of My Web App


I always found project management something very scary. Agencies that I worked for used Basecamp, MS Project and other very complicated (and pricey) systems. I tried them myself but I really needed something a lot simpler and ‘less serious’. Because I had some spare time, and because I was already learning a ‘rapid application development framework’ I knew it wouldn’t take me that long to build, so I decided to do it.

I designed everything the way I thought it should work. Because I wasn’t a project manager and had no experience in that area there were no plans in my designs for Gantt charts or complicated reporting systems. Everything was very simple and fun to use. After three months of building the app I decided to share it with the world in November and since then it has rapidly grown to a user-base of two thousand. Apparently I was not alone in believing that there was a need for a project management web app that handled projects and invoices in a simple fashion.

The web app is called Project Bubble. I continue to develop and support it every day and I love seeing other users really enjoying using it. I particularly enjoy seeing people suggesting new ideas and us all gathering together as a community and discussing whether or not to implement these ideas. Because I believe in keeping things simple, a lot of the time these features don’t make it but it’s fun to be a part of something so agile and fluid in it’s development. I also believe that customer service is critical to the success of the web app (as I’ll explain later) and proving that your web app is alive with activity and social buzz will also keep user retention and satisfaction.

What About Your Web App Idea?

Some people, particularly entrepreneurs, go to bed at night and can’t sleep because they have so many ideas for websites. It might be some new community website that is focused on a particular passion of yours, or a unique web application that integrates with Twitter, or perhaps you have ideas for how you can rebuild your current site and utilize all the latest web technologies. This is your inspiration and your dream, but how do you make it a reality when you have a day job and twenty other websites that you look after?

With this inspiration you have taken your first step. The next step is making that dream a reality and building your web app, even though there are many factors that could stop you such as time and money. Here are some tips that will help you down that road of inspiration to reality. Start believing that you can make this happen, because you can.

1. Stay Motivated

These days it is very possible to build those web applications that you previously only dreamed about. A few years ago you would need to build everything from scratch, today you can benefit from the vast array of open-source code libraries and freeware design resources that are out there.

So much of the hard work has been done already so time shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Also a lot of the resources out there are free so money cannot be an excuse either. You have to stay motivated and believe that you can take your new project on. Commit yourself to at least getting a public beta launched so people can give you their feedback, and just block out some spare time when you can work on your web app.

2. Don’t Be Afraid of Competition

I learnt this lesson when I built Project Bubble. The reason why I wasn’t afraid of competition was because I didn’t think I was going to be competing with anyone! I built Project Bubble firstly for my own business, months before I ever thought I would release it publicly. Now it has become very successful. If I think about competition today part of me still wonders how on earth it could possibly succeed when you compare it with the greats. So don’t worry about competition. Your app will be unique, because you made it.


3. Plan Everything

Set deadlines and plan everything from the early development through to the Beta launch. You could even make wire-frames using online tools such as Mockingbird to help you with the design phase. Whatever you do make sure you’ve thought it all out on paper (or stickies!) before you ever get to the design or build stage.

4. Use a Rapid Application Development Framework

Development frameworks such as Ruby-on-Rails, CodeIgniter and Kohana have done all the hard work for you and are really easy to learn. I use CodeIgniter and I love it. On their website they will show you how you can build a blog engine in just twenty minutes! A lot of cool web apps that you see these days are built on Ruby-on-Rails including Basecamp and the beauty of using something like Ruby is that not only do you have that massive library of time-saving functions but you also have a huge community of other developers who will help you if you get stuck.


5. Get Feedback

Once you have your public beta live, use widgets like Get Satisfaction and User Voice to get feedback from your users. They will be happy because you are listening to them, and you will be happy because you will know straight away if something is wrong and also you will get ideas that you probably would never have otherwise thought of. Don’t be afraid of saying “No” to people if they suggest something that you don’t think is appropriate and always welcome peoples suggestions and ideas no matter how crazy they might seem.

6. Use Social Media

Once you are happy with your app, use social media to create a buzz for your app. Submit it to all the web app reviews you can possibly think of such as:

Killer Startups
Great Web Apps


Make sure you are on Twitter and you have a clear link on your website so people can follow you. Get involved with your community, respond to them, and show that your web app is new, exciting, buzzing and active. Your users will be excited to be a part of something fresh and evolving.

7. Keep Trying

If it doesn’t work out, don’t worry just try again. I built a web app recently for car owners and it wasn’t successful at all. It wasn’t because the idea wasn’t original and it wasn’t the design, in fact I still don’t know why it hasn’t worked out but the point is it really doesn’t matter. Just pick yourself up and try again with another idea because one day you will just ‘hit the nail on the head’ and get it right. Practice always makes perfect.

I hope you have enjoyed reading and I hope that now you are now inspired and motived. If you have a new web app that you want to tell us about why not comment and let us know?

Stu works for his own web company developing web apps and has experience in PHP, jQuery and user-centered design.

  • Pretty cool. Definitely inspired me. Checking out Codeigniter right now.

  • Nice tips, I’m particularly one of those people riddled with countless ideas for new designs/businesses..
    I also find that microsoft groove keeps me organized in whatever direction i decide to take..

  • Great article Stu, very inspiring. I ran across Project Bubble a couple of months ago and have been testing it out, I think it will definitely be a super-successful web app.

  • Will give Project Bubble a go, I have used codeigniter for the past two years, it is super awesome and has a great community if you get stuck, have questions, or want to share your own ideas. I looked at Ruby a few years ago and will be going back to see how things have progressed.

    Great article, my head is spinning everyday. Has never been a better time for designer / creative / developers.

  • Nice write up. I like the way you’re using Twitter and Uservoice together for feedback. Good luck.

  • Great article Stu, very inspiring. I ran across Project Bubble a couple of months ago and have been testing it out, I think it will definitely be a super-successful web app.

  • Hi Stu,
    Your thoughts are really inspiring. I had thought I was only one that couldn’t sleep at night when mind gets full of ideas :D
    good luck

  • I have used CodeIgniter for a few years now and it is the easiest to pick up and learn, and it helps build complex websites quickly while staying organized. I’ve also developed a few libraries specifically for CodeIgniter. Check it out!

  • Lox

    Very usefull and motivating! Thanks!
    PS: now following @stulogy

  • Awesome! These “How To” article motivated me. Thanks.

  • “Don’t Be Afraid of Competition”… I really like that part of this article.

    Keep up the good work!

    Have a nice day,


  • pavan raj

    Well it inspired me a lot!!!
    But, How about the funding!!!

    The main problem is to get a idea to work on!!

    What can be helpful in getting those ideas

  • brinda

    “I must recommend you Mockup Tiger the best product of this type I’ve found yet! ”