Snapchat has been a hot topic of discussion recently. Earlier this year, it lost $1.3 billion in market value with one tweet.
Snapchat has been under fire from users who detest the new layout. Petitions have been signed asking the company to roll back. While market gurus have said that this was an overreaction on Wall Street, as a curious PM, I want to take a deep dive into how they succeeded so far with the poorest design choices, and why I think that now is the right time to play by the book.
What is all the fuss about?
Snapchat has a cryptic iconography. Activating lens requires you to hold onto the camera screen and while you do that, musical notes (spoiler – it’s Shazaming simultaneously) will pop up in the background. You can swipe left, right, pinch out and zoom in with no instructions whatsoever as to which action will do what, and many other violations of UX best practices. The irony – the best features of Snapchat are hidden and obscure.
As an app that is part messaging, part content delivery and part photo-sharing, they decided to take the worst parts of all three and created an amalgamation to anger the UX gods.
How did Snapchat succeed?
With every UX violation, they set the tone for its target audience. Snapchat wasn’t meant for the lurkers, it was meant for creators and innovators.
What they understood better than anyone was that UX is a form of art, and in art, rules are meant to be broken. In my opinion, they designed without purpose, on purpose. Features were meant to be hidden gems. In a world where the smallest update will be advertised to users, Snapchat let its users go on a treasure hunt within the app.
I myself have used these hidden features umpteen number of times to engage my peers in conversation. Heck, I have even used it during my interviews to show my interviewer new features and have meaningful product conversations.
In an article I read recently, this is what Snapchats CEO, Evan Spiegel had to say on his apps questionable UX
“This is by design. We have made it very hard for parents to embarrass their children.”
Their atrocious design choices were described as ‘Cool’ by teens and millennials. Nothing kills cool faster than adults. So while teens were willing to spend time taking a crack at it and fit in with their peers, adults chose to stay away from its confusing user interface.
Snapchat was steadily growing its user base up until mid-2017. The question really is, why do they need a UX overhaul now if it had been successful so far?
Can poor design choices last any longer?
It seems like Snapchat’s days of relying on unconventional UX may be numbered. Recent reports have suggested that their user base has been flatlining. This is never a good news for any company, especially for a social media company.
Snapchats outside the box thinking with its functionality and UX worked beautifully to capture its target audience, but with competition from veterans like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, who are now providing most of the features with better functionality, Snapchat needs to grow out of its niche market. In a report released by Statista, the average age of Snapchat users has increased. And what that really means is that Snapchat will now have to accommodate UX sacrifices for its older users.
Today, you won’t be surprised if the demographic chart for Facebook is equally spread across all the ages. By designing for a larger market, and developing a more intuitive UI, Facebook has had to trade off its cool points – but it is clearly paying off.
It is time Snapchat makes its decision – will it want to stick around in the niche market and remain cool among the millennials, or, have a massive UX overhaul and make it usable for a broader market. If Snapchat does not adapt today, it not only risks stagnation of user growth but also getting enveloped by bigger platforms.