Rapid Application Development (RAD) shortens the planning lifecycle of a product to bring it to market faster without compromising quality. Developed by and for the IT industry, RAD is a response to the traditional, rigid, step-by-step design process in which each software specification is thoroughly coded, tested, and approved before the team moves on to the next. By contrast, RAD:

  • Develops modular software components in parallel;
  • Employs existing automated software to build and test a series of prototypes that are continuously improved until benchmarks are achieved;
  • Focuses on building a core application, keeping refinements for future releases; and
  • Provides customers with working models on which to give feedback as development continues.

The idea is to launch a minimally viable product, gauge user reaction on the fly and incorporate fixes in future product iterations. Moreover, the product can be abandoned with minimal investment in time and resources if user response is tepid. The user experience data gathered can be incorporated in the development of other products.

This concept works best in the software industry, particularly for apps, which users are willing try, and potentially discard, new products. Apps are nonessential, so perfect performance isn’t necessary. Unlike, say, in a car or in an air traffic control system.

The First Try: Jelly

The ease with which new apps can come to market means that a company can experiment with new ideas without losing too much money or time. Case in point is Jelly Industries, the company Biz Stone co-founded after leaving Twitter. The company’s first app was Jelly, which used social networks to answer questions with a mix of visuals and text. The app gathered considerable hype given Stone’s track record. Market reaction, however, was less than enthusiastic.

The great thing about apps is that you don’t have to worry about having too much inventory. And even if an app isn’t overly loved, those who do like it continue to like it. People continue to use Jelly, as Stone points out, even though the app wasn’t a blockbuster of the magnitude of well, Twitter.

Jelly Redeveloped: Super

Which is how Super came about, described as being “like Willy Wonka and Dr. Suess went up in a spaceship, invented something called ‘social media’ and then came back down to Earth and revealed it in the Future Exhibit at the 1931 World’s Fair.” Marketing shtick aside, the app combines short text, social media and bright graphics. Sound familiar?

It’s not by accident that the announcement of the app on Stone’s blog refers to prototyping and the halcyon days at Twitter when the object was just to get stuff out there for people to play with. Chris Carter may be correct that Super “feels unnecessary after roughly 15 minutes,” but that really isn’t the point. The point is to get it out there, see what people like or don’t like, and then move on to the next thing.

Which makes it totally RAD.