A majority of SaaS providers now find that the best route to growth is to facilitate integrations with other SaaS apps. Sometimes this is a simple exchange of data, but increasingly, developers can connect into the user interface itself. As companies transition from a standalone app to an app platform, they often must make tradeoffs. They may choose a flexible approach to integrations, or prefer to keep close control over the app marketplace UI to maintain consistency.
Shape Your Platform to Meet User & Developer Needs
If you have created a platform with an app marketplace, attracting and retaining end users is the meat of your business. To do that, you need to provide an app ecosystem that evolves to meet their needs and offers increasing value over time. That means the developers who are creating apps for your platform, need the flexibility to innovate.
However, it’s important to remember that users expect consistency when they are working on your platform. Their experience with apps on your platform should be predictable and consistent. The flexibility you give to developers should also recognize your users’ needs.
Finding the right balance makes your platform valuable.
Prioritize End-User Experience
Your end-users are your most important asset. Remember that the underlying goal is to gain your users’ loyalty, satisfaction and increase the time they spend on your platform. Cultivating an app ecosystem, recruiting developers, or broadening your app offerings should all begin with a ‘user-first’ mindset.
Knowing your users will help you deliver the most valuable experience. Do your users usually come to you independently, through social or community groups or large corporations? How do they use your platform? Even a technically savvy audience does not want to spend a lot of time learning another new app marketplace UI, so the best app platforms create consistency across their integrations.
Different standards are appropriate for different user groups. For example, both Mindbody and DocuSign are platforms focused on fairly specific use cases. Mindbody’s end users are registering for fitness classes, so the guidelines for app developers are focused on relevance to user needs and ease-of-use.
Mindbody’s guidelines emphasize appearance, accessibility and brand, reflecting a consumer focus.
DocuSign similarly, focuses on a specific user need because their users tend to be engaged in more formal, sustained tasks. Therefore, the UI guidelines for developers simultaneously allow more complexity and require compliance with more specific UX flows.
DocuSign’s Partner Integration Guide provides highly detailed documentation and live support. For a service used for legal documents and business transactions, ensuring all partner apps are highly reliable and function in predictable ways, is crucial.
Meanwhile, Slack’s users come from clubs, informal communities and companies of all sizes, who all use the platform for a wide range of communications. Their app platform has broad guidelines that allow developers plenty of latitude, but also offers quick-start options to allow users to develop their own custom apps quickly.
Slack’s platform offers support for custom apps with broad guidelines, and no-code solutions with limited choices. Slack users are often developing apps for their own use, and the platform is organized to meet the diverse needs of those users.
Know your users’ needs. Who are they? How do they use your service? Keep them in mind as you develop guidelines and standards for your platform.
Likewise, you need to consider what your users’ current pain points are. If users are already bothered by cluttered UI in parts of your platform, ensure that your requirements for developers improve this situation by limiting choices. If you know that easier integration with payment providers makes the experience better, you should build new apps on your platform accordingly.
Wherever possible, use standards. Even if you’ve created an incredibly popular platform, your users still spend most of their time using other applications. You can help your users save time by incorporating the standards they already know and use elsewhere. Apps on your platform should use OAuth2, follow WCAG accessibility guidelines, have consistent, transparent error handling, and require basic UX options like undo/redo and copy/cut/paste and a standard icon library. If users can interact with your platform intuitively, they will stay longer.
No set of guidelines will ever be perfect, and technology and trends will evolve, so you will have to adjust over time. Again, keep your users in mind. Craft guidelines that make changes highly observable and logical, and transition gradually when possible.
Make Your Platform A Place Developers Want To Be
To have great app offerings, you need to get great developers engaged with your platform – and keep them engaged. Creating and maintaining your developer community is a multi-faceted, long-term project, but fundamentally, developers won’t stay if the technical experience is not an enjoyable one.
Fortunately, there is actually great synergy between creating an attractive platform for developers and user-centered policies like those discussed above. Anyone who has struggled to begin an open-ended project understands this: the right kind of restrictions fuel creativity. The knowledge you’ve gained about your users – embodied in your guidelines and policies – can inspire developers to envision new use cases and create more powerful app integrations.
You can improve the developer experience even further with a few simple principles:
- First, be certain that your documentation is top-notch. Developers should not have to guess whether their app integrations will be approved or worry that the icon library will change without their knowledge.
- Second, make all guidelines and rules clear, logical and purposeful. Your documentation will be even more valuable if it explains guidelines and updates designed to benefit users.
- Third, listen to your developers. Be responsive and predictable in addressing their needs and concerns, so that they can continue to add value to your platform.
Even the very best developers can’t achieve perfection every time. Standards, conventions and frameworks can help restrict choices, inspire creativity and lead to better maintainability down the road. You know your users, so use that knowledge to nudge developers in the right direction. Developers want to see their work get used, and you can help make that happen.
Finding the right balance of flexibility and control for your platform and your users, will take some work. The payoff is that users and developers are then satisfied and inspired by the app marketplace UI they’re met with.