Paul Francis
Paul Francis 10 July 2018
Categories Mobile, Technology

Designing for Day Zero and Day 100 of Your App

Many app owners love to think about the day that their app will have widespread adoption and thousands (if not millions) of users. This leads them to design and focus their solution around that potential point in time. We often refer to this as day 100 (or day 1,000) and distinguish the needs of the app at that point from those of the app at release (or day zero).

This article will explore how apps can be designed to scale, but will mostly focus on designing for day zero and ensuring that even without widespread adoption, the app will continue to appeal and provide utility for early adopters.

Why People Don’t Think About Day Zero

All too often app owners, product managers, designers, and developers fail to consider how their app will function on the day it is released. Rather than considering this initial version and what is required for it to flourish, they often fixate on what an app might be in the future. Compounding this problem, they often have unrealistic expectations about how quickly an app will reach mass adoption. This is particularly true for first-time app creators. In addition, it is often more work to properly plan for day zero, since you often have to design and develop distinct workflows, widgets, and user interactions that might need to be modified as an app ages. For an app to succeed, it is crucial that all stakeholders understand the importance of day zero, are willing to put in the work to design specifically for the early stages of an app, and understand how an app should evolve over time.

How Day Zero is Different

The first step in properly preparing for an app’s day zero is to understand how an app’s functionality, workflows, and user-interface should evolve over time. The primary difference is that there are initial limitations brought about by a lack of content, users, and history on a platform. Things like news feeds, recent uploads, user lists, and user histories will likely be close to empty when an app first launches. Designers will often illustrate how these screens will look when they are full of content, but fail to consider how they will look when empty.

Similarly, many apps will also launch with a set of functionality that is more minimal than the one they will include in later versions. This is commonly referred to as a minimum viable product (MVP). The goal of this approach is to test an app’s visibility and quickly iterate on customer feedback, rather than building a bunch of features that customers may or may not want.

Why Day Zero Matters

Despite it being more work to properly design for day zero, it almost always is the difference between an app’s failure and success. Users can be ruthless when it comes to uninstalling an app. If someone downloads an app and it feels empty, unfinished, or fails to excite them in some way, they are prone to uninstalling it immediately. Furthermore, they are highly unlikely to give the app another chance in the future if they were unimpressed the first time they installed it. This means that an app has one shot and must make a great first impression. If not, it might be losing users as quickly as it gains them.

Furthermore, properly designing for an app’s day zero can dramatically increase the rate at which an app grows. Many apps grow from users sharing information about an app or the app ranking higher in the app stores. For an app to be shared, it must have something worth sharing and should encourage users to share content or app invites with others. To help an app rank higher, app owners should try to minimize uninstalls and encourage positive reviews. Both of these goals can be achieved by properly designing for day zero.

How to Design for Day Zero’s First Time Experience

To properly design for an app’s day zero first time experience, you should mask the fact there is minimal content and actively encourage users to immediately begin creating content. In this context, content can mean product listings, registrations, posts, comments, new connections, or any other aspect of an app that is created or provided by the user base. There are many ways to achieve these goals and the following list details some of the most common approaches:

Design empty states - If a list is empty, don’t just show an empty list or a message that says “nothing to see here.” Instead, use that screen to guide your user to another place in your app or some other workflow where they can begin populating that page with content. An example of this might be a friends list that recommends new contacts or allows you to invite others, rather than simply showing that you have no friends.

Guide users with first-time tutorials -  Treat first time users as if they are guests coming to your home for the first time and that they don’t know anyone else there. Show them around, introduce them to a few new people, and check in on them throughout the evening.

Avoid showing counts where possible -  As an example of this, consider a streaming platform. These platforms are often evaluated based on the quality and quantity of their content. A brand new streaming site will likely have very little content, but that does not have to be apparent to users. Rather than having search screens that show a count of the videos available, encourage users to browse more broad categories of videos.

There is not a one size fits all approach to designing for day zero, but the first two points will apply to most apps and the third is a more specific example to consider. By building on these tips, customizing them for each specific app, and remembering the primary goals of day zero design, app owners can effectively craft their day zero design.

How to Design for Day Zero’s Ongoing Experiences

Although day zero specifically describes the day an app launches or the day an early adopter first downloads an app, this design approach is not limited specifically to this day. Instead, it must account for ongoing user engagement and give users a reason to continue utilizing and engaging with the app. Here are some tips to drive this continued usage from early adopters:

  • Create your own content:  To whatever extent possible, fill out your platform yourself. If your app is a marketplace, buy some of the goods listed by your early users. If it is a review site, leave as many reviews (using multiple accounts) as possible. It is crucial that this is done on an ongoing basis and as regularly as possible. If early adopters are frequently checking an app and are not seeing any new content, they will rightly assume the app is stagnant. Take it upon yourself to ensure this does not happen.
  • Import, Share, & Gradually Migrate Users:  Make it as painless as possible for someone to migrate from their other platforms. To do this, a social app might allow for importing photos from other platforms or allow posts on the new platform to be automatically listed on the old one. By taking these steps, users are able to try out the new app without immediately abandoning the old one.
  • Ongoing Reminders:  Newly released apps are often quickly making changes and adding new features. As these features are completed, users should be notified either through push notifications, in-app messages, or email campaigns. Early adopters tend to be highly appreciative of these initial improvements.

The goal of this process is to drive ongoing and frequent engagement that helps your app maximize the utility of early adopters. The more this is achieved, the quicker an app will fully transition from day zero to day 100 and beyond.

Designing Past Day Zero

Properly designing and planning for day zero can also lead to a substantially better day 100. The steps outlined in this article require that app owners remain engaged with their platform and quickly respond to customer feedback. Doing so enables app owners to acquire a better understanding of what users are doing in an app and what sorts of features users would like to see added. In turn, this can result in a product more exciting than the ideas envisioned prior to the app’s launch.

In addition, when new features are rolled out, they have their own sort of day zero. Users will need to be acquainted with these enhancements. The way an app handles this process should be strongly informed by previous day zero experiences and results.


Making a great first impression is incredibly important in the success of a mobile app. However, many apps fail to properly account for how they will differ between day zero and day 100. This causes them to struggle out of the gate and potentially waste their initial marketing efforts. By understanding the importance and uniqueness of day zero and applying the tips described in this article throughout your app development process, future app owners will hopefully not make this common mistake.

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