Building a Scalable Mobile App: From UX to APIs and Beyond

Digital Experiences
A graphic interpretation of the building blocks used in app development and design.

Your business could have any of several reasons to invest in a mobile app. Depending on your size and industry, a well-built app can help you streamline and optimize processes, customer service and sales.  

Whatever your motivation, it’s only worth your time and budget if it’s well-crafted around sound strategy and built to scale with your growing business.

The building blocks of app development 

App development projects have several moving parts to manage for success. You have no shortage of features that you could add, those bells and whistles that only a small percentage of users might ultimately use. 

To begin with, focus on solving your most pressing challenge by defining user needs, deciding on an efficient development approach, mitigating risk and doubling down on long-term scalability. 

Here are a few things our decades of experience have taught us to save you time, money and headaches:

1. Journey maps and user personas inform design — and development 

First things first: thoroughly define who the app is for and how they are interacting with you. Mapping attribution and intent will help users find what they want or need. Staying aware of the customer experience establishes a clear north star that will carry you from concept to code.

For Milwaukee custard and burger staple Kopp’s, we modernized and evolved their existing mobile app. This required the Lightburn team to plan design and development changes around that app’s database. Functionality had to keep working for existing customer accounts, while onboarding new customers and connecting to the checkout for guests ordering online. Any major friction could cost them brand loyalty and sales.

“Little things add up,” says Steve Kaufman, Lightburn’s Lead Front-End Developer. “Our UX/UI team designs for clients and their customers, and for developers. Internally, we work closely throughout the user persona and journey mapping process to limit assumptions that can burn budget and time with rework.”

2. You don’t have to fully rewrite code for each operating system 

Lightburn advised another food and beverage business on their plan to develop a proprietary version of the white-labeled app already in place. They intended to build strictly for iOS customers, as research showed at the time that most users owned iPhones. 

However, the gap is narrowing domestically between iOS and Android mobile users. Statcounter tells us that in August 2023, 56.93% of users in the U.S. were scrolling on iPhones while 42.64% were on Android devices. As we even out domestically, the global market has flipped to become Android-dominant.

This trend would make it hard for an app developed strictly for iOS to scale in the future without essentially coding from scratch for Android. 

Like many .NET developers, we’ve been fans of Xamarin, now .NET MAUI. The open-source software can share code base across Android, iOS, MacOS, Windows and other operating systems that otherwise wouldn’t play nice together on the digital playground. 

While Xamarin is being formally retired, .NET MAUI’s purpose is similar and now offers new features and performance enhancements that give developers a simplified, streamlined experience for C# code. 

The .NET code base isn’t completely one-to-one for iOS and Android in MAUI, but it cuts development time and cost, plus time for testing and deployment. Its flexibility is an advantage in similar projects. 

“Xamarin and now MAUI give us a single user interface for different platforms,” says Lightburn’s back-end development lead, Keith Donnell. “There’s no need to rewrite code for the most part.”

3. API integration carries benefits and risks

Your app can add functionality with third-party APIs — for example, integrating account information from a database, pulling in content from a headless CMS or helping users find your nearest brick-and-mortar location.  

APIs improve process efficiency and seamlessly integrate data to create a smoother customer experience. But they’re not simple plug-and-play shortcuts. 

Like every other technology tool, APIs can age quickly and badly. Careful consideration and ongoing maintenance are critical for apps to function and scale. 

Every third-party integration creates joints that need to be welded together. Here’s how to vet potential APIs and quality-check their ability to integrate with your app:

  • Does it have robust SDKs and installation documentation? Good SDKs include resource libraries, clear policies, guidance for handling and reporting errors, sample coding and more. Its written instructions for how the API works are often supplemented with video tutorials and use case examples. 
  • Do you have access to support? Google and Amazon APIs aren’t right for everyone. And free doesn’t always mean better. Does the API developer have a strong record so you can count on them to stick around? Do they supply contact info for quick support? Is there an active online community around the API? 
  • What are its limits and restrictions? APIs have guidelines for how and when they can be used. Private, public, partner and open APIs restrict access and have rules for authentication and authorization. You’ll have to pay licensing fees or submit specific information to use for many. 
  • It is secure? The OWSAP Top 10 details critical application security risks — you might need keys, tokens or other mechanisms for your app to access an API.  Be absolutely certain that the API you integrate into your app adheres to regulatory requirements for data privacy and protection. You can’t un-ring this bell.

Will it scale?

Successful mobile apps can help grow your business. They lay a solid foundation to build for the future with these first steps:

  1. Get front-end developers or business analysts involved early in design to ask or answer questions, review documentation and raise concerns.
  2. Use platforms that help developers reuse code to cut time and budget and offer flexibility for future phases.
  3. Select third-party APIs with your eyes wide open to what could go wrong.

Have more questions about building a mobile app that will help achieve your goals for revenue and productivity? Ask us anything.