So you’re considering commissioning the design and development of an app?

We know that any good app project needs a strong conceptual foundation, an evidence-based design and a robust technology stack but it will also need a budget so where do you start?

To create a sustainable solution, you will need to understand the requirements throughout the whole lifecycle of the app and in this blog post, we aim to address these considerations to help you manage the risk of under-budgeting for a project of this nature.

The design and development process

If you’re considering using a digital agency for the design and development of your app project, it’s useful to understand how best to manage this relationship.

Before you commit to the project with an agency, make sure you’re confident in their ability to deliver by checking:

  • Track record of delivering similar projects
  • References – speak to their existing clients and understand whether they provide value for money
  • Financial standing – carry out a credit check on the agency
  • Their set up – visit the agency’s office and meet the team that will be working on the project

In terms of the design and development costs, most agencies will quote on a time and materials basis.  They may provide a fixed cost or variable depending on the project management methodology used – it is often difficult to set a fixed cost when embarking on a co-creation process where end users will contribute to defining the scope of the project as the design and development will be iterative but there are ways of managing this which should be discussed with your agency before starting the project.

And once you’re working with your agency, make sure you check the intended technology stack – is it scalable, flexible, and transferrable and above all, is it fit for purpose?  It could be worth planning in an independent code review if you are unable to technically assess this yourself.

The costs of an agency will vary but will typically include:

  • Project Management
  • Discovery and planning
  • Design
  • Prototyping
  • Build
  • Programming
  • Testing
  • Deployment

App support and maintenance

Once your app has been launched, it’s important to have a maintenance plan in place to ensure that your app remains updated, stable and above all, safe to use – particularly in the context of digital health.

Being proactive about the checking the app’s usability, safety, security and validity can instil trust in your product contributing to adoption and retention of your user base so you may wish to consider a ‘retainer fee’ arrangement with your developer.


The functionality of an app will determine whether the assets and data can be self-contained within the app download or whether you will require a hosting provision to store information.

At its most basic, you may require an Amazon S3 bucket to store the app’s assets and facilitate hot code pushes (which basically means you can deploy app updates via the server rather than having to go through the lengthy process of re-submitting the app to the App Store).  This comes at a cost of pence rather than pounds so is easy to budget for as the cost is nominal.

However, if your app is collecting data or has a registration process (for instance), then it’s likely that this will be dealt with via an API and database which will need their own hosting environments.

When considering hosting environments, it’s worth noting the data protection and information governance requirements of your data controller.  If you’re handling personal or patient identifiable data then a UK datacentre will be the most suitable – some organisations permit hosting data within the European Economic Area but this is definitely worth confirming before incurring any costs.

It’s also worth checking the security accreditations of the datacentre i.e. ISO27001 or similar internationally recognised standards as this may help you satisfy some of the information governance requirements of a project and save you time and money further down the line.

Plugins or third party services

A lot of apps use plugins and third party services because using a tried and tested component rather than creating something from scratch can dramatically reduce your development time.  It’s true that a lot of ‘app services’ are free until you reach a certain number of users so it’s important to know what these thresholds are and plan for them.  Examples of services/requirements that you might want to factor in include:

  • Email notifications
  • Push notifications
  • SSL certificates
  • Domain Name
  • Developer licence (to enable you to upload to the App Store)

Marketing your app

Once your app is out there, you need to tell people about it!  You may already have promotion platforms in place which can be extended to accommodate information about the app but if not, it’s worthwhile considering:

  • Website
  • Email marketing
  • Social Media
  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • Pay Per Click
  • Content Marketing

Other costs

If you’re an existing business looking to add an app to your existing digital portfolio then it’s likely you will be able to absorb some of these costs into your day to day business.

However, if you’re a start-up with an idea for an app or working on a research project then there are other costs that you may need to consider including:

  • Your time
  • Co-creation session expenses and honorarium
  • Overheads
  • Insurance – do you have enough to cover your liability (will depend on what your app is doing)

And finally, you need to consider when the app might need redeveloping.  Technological developments progress at the rate of knots and it’s inevitable that a better, more secure, more efficient way of creating apps will come along shortly but hopefully, you should get at least five years out of the technology base you initially invested in.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the app development process, we recently held a webinar with NHS Blood and Transplant which focussed on the development of the Blood Choices App – you can view the blog post and webinar recording here.

We hope you have found this blog post useful and that it provides you with a checklist for your app design and development project.

If you’d like to discuss your app project with us then please do get in touch!