How Snapchat designs product
Lessons from Snapchat by breaking product strategies, tactics to unlock new growth. More popular than LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter this decade.
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Q: Did Snapchat succeed because of its controversial design?
It’s not new that Snapchat’s usability isn’t the best. They even had to include ten black and white diagrams in their IPO filing just to help potential investors (i.e. olds) understand it.
Most websites and apps that came along in the early days of the internet had terrible experiences. They had cluttered home pages and distracting color palettes. So how did Snapchat eventually prevail?
Here’s how Snapchat breaks all design principles to build a successful product
With more than 500+ million downloads on the Google Play Store alone and over 160 million active users each day, Snapchat has caught the attention of its users with its complicated user experience that includes:
Hidden app functionalities
Complicated navigation without guidance
However, Snapchat’s user experience is not bad. It’s actually an incredibly smart design. Their challenging user experience is what keeps them relevant to their primary target audience: teenagers and millennials. Here’s how they nail it:
1. Winning User Psychology with Gamification
Snapchat understood its users’ psychology and made certain features challenging to access intuitively. A very simple, yet ingenious, example is the Streaks Count in Snapchat. As you send snaps, you earn new stickers for “best friends”, badges, and higher points.
There is also a built-in trophy rewarding system. After reaching a specific milestone, you will get a trophy – a small badge that you can display on your profile.
Everything is designed to engage users to interact with the interface more and stay in app for a longer period of time. This wonderful gamification strategy has been working successfully for Snapchat.
How to gamify using the most popular design elements?
To gamify a product, the goal is to get your user into the game and keep them playing: acquisition and retention. Let’s look at the most popular ones:
Rewards, Points, and Badges: Monetary or non-monetary incentives that encourage task completion
Leaderboards: Rankings to create a dopamine-induced competition.
Avatars: Creating a character to give a body or a form to your virtual character provides a narrative to your product user.
Gifting: A referral or a campaign that can boost acquisition and retention
Challenges: Missions and valuable tasks introduced that lead to an adrenaline rush in your user.
Feedback: An interactive response from the product that guides how to successfully use the product.
2. Raising hype with challenging features
In early 2018, Snapchat rolled out a major redesign. The resulting layout confused users and made access to features difficult. Snapchat’s target audience were teenagers, initially, so the company decided to focus on the mass market, and it was willing to sacrifice some of its cool points to reach that market.
How controversial design paid off:
Even teenagers find Snapchat’s user interface challenging, but it becomes a game for them as a means of being cool and fitting in with their peers.
Every time a new feature is added to Snapchat, thousands of people ask each other how it works. Each time, that chit-chat raises awareness of Snapchat.
How to master the art of hype by designing challenging yet provocative features?
Use the scarcity principle: Persuade people to take desired actions. The scarcity principle means the rarer or more difficult it is to obtain a product, offer, or piece of content is, the more valuable it becomes.
Add exclusivity factor: Invoke FOMO among your users. Snapchat content expires either immediately or after 24 hours. This leads to users creating content that is more lighthearted on uncensored than public-facing platforms.
3. Break simplicity with complex UX
They have resorted to not adopt universal icons. Most elements have no labels and even the screen where users discover new content is slightly intimidating.
They created a more complex UX, at the cost of sacrificing their cool factor. Their competitors are already implementing the feature on a larger scale.
Yet Snapchat’s success suggests that these UX decisions weren’t negatively affecting the platform.
In today’s time when a user is presented with complicated experience, they don’t give the app second chances. Here’s what makes Snapchat different from others with bad UX:
The answer - target audience. It is their baffling UX that maintains Snapchat’s relevance to their key demographic: teens and millennials.
Nothing kills cool faster than adults. The target audience is as powerful as it is fickle, and capturing it means keeping Snapchat cool. Most adults won’t put in the effort to learn how to use the app, leading them to abandon the app, ensuring Snapchat remains cool for teens.
4. Experiment with crazy, bold methods
Snapchat swapped perfectionism for experimentation. From the sharing feature to its interactive filters, Snapchat engages the users as soon as b they open the app with it’s unique and innovative design.
The magic of opening Snapchat
It swallows you immediately. After you launch it, it will open up and display your front camera. If you touch the screen, the special effects menu will open in the lower portion of your screen.
How to innovate with unique design & capabilities
Mystery UX: Snapchat gives users the freedom to swipe in all four directions. Each direction leads opens different features of the app, making the experience thrilling for users as they don’t know what to expect.
Fast Feedback: One great feature about Snapchat is its impeccable feedback. When a user takes a screenshot of another user’s story, the creator of the story is immediately notified. This ensures users that their privacy is being monitored.
Real-time Prompts: When a user is typing a message to another user, the potential receiver is immediately notified with a phone notification such as “Jimmy is typing a message…” This is a great example of real-time, immediate feedback.
Super easy: Snapchat makes sharing within other social media apps extremely easy and quick - another unique feature which was later adapted by Instagram too. Share, Edit & Send are the two buttons you will see everywhere.
Love this? Read the full version (includes Netflix’s Innovative Design Strategy).
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One of the most exciting pieces we've wrote since I used it a lot in high school. What do you think Snapchat did right/wrong? 👇