The biggest lesson learned from Snapchat's UX fail

My 17-year-old daughter never listens to the car radio. Ever.

Her default state in the car is to sit with one earbud firmly implanted in her left ear listening to ‘grime' and the other dangling over the right, so she can monitor for trick questions like, ‘What did you do at school today?’ and, ‘What did you have for lunch at school today?’

I was listening to the news on the radio about Snapchat’s UX change and the subsequent outrage from users when my daughter unexpectedly exploded.

“YES! It’s terrible! They’ve RUINED it!” This was just the start of a five-minute rant detailing how the update just didn’t make sense, her friends all hated it too, she kind-of understood why they did it (after I explained it to her), but that’s not what SHE wanted from the app.

If you are not a user, Snapchat’s changes effectively demoted immediate posts in favour of an algorithmic-based UI change designed to promote more relevant content instead.

After overcoming my shock at the fact she did at least occasionally listen, her passion for the issue made me wonder if Snapchat had broken one of the golden rules of UI design and UX strategy: Once you hit ‘publish’ it’s no longer your app/website, but their experience.

Many websites and apps fail to understand a simple contract between the user and whatever the publisher is trying to achieve. Users do not open your app because of who or what you are but because of what you can give them.

This was brought home to me recently by the changes to another social media app, Facebook. I haven’t spoken to a single friend who subsequently believes Facebook isn't now pretty much pointless.

They have no interest in what ‘friends’, or rather ‘randoms you come across in life and you accept their friend request’ are posting. Like me, they were mainly using Facebook to consume news and follow their interests via special interest groups and Pages.

Mark Zuckerberg might want his app to connect people more, but his users just want to use the app as they did before, as a media and knowledge consumption platform.* It will be interesting to see the first user numbers for 2018, following the changes. The fact is, I’m more interested in updates on how a guy I’ve never met is rebuilding an old motorbike than I am in a schoolfriend’s daughter’s new job.

In Snapchat’s case, users wanted the latest updates. Now, the interface is ‘confusing’, and they fear missing out. When you are young, as the majority of Snapchat users are, your primary concern is not to be the person who didn’t hear this piece of gossip or missed out on that influencer’s video. Snapchat’s success was built on delivering hot content, immediately, with the ability to share and consume other's opinions instantly. In a snap, you might say.

This is where it gets interesting. At Huddle, we believe the UI interface IS the business, not just surface aesthetics. In their IPO a few years ago, Snapchat's mission statement was,  "We believe that reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate." So they are a camera company... Who knew? But staying with that for a minute, if they are a camera company operating in today's instant world, they surely need to make the interface quick to use and share your pics and equally quick to discover and comment on other's pics? This is why the redesign is confusing and not just for the users. It seems Snapchat may have lost sight of its business purpose.

Longterm, Snapchat’s decision to fundamentally change the user’s experience may be just a blip. Their justification for the change - that in time it will lead to more relevant rather than immediate engagement for the user - might come right. That’s if there is a long-term for the app.

A single tweet, from a prominent celebrity who claims to hate the UX update, wiped $1.3 billion off Snapchat's share price as her 24 million followers agreed with her.

*That’s the publicly-stated reason. The real reason, as many industry observers have noted, is that brands will now need to pay to reach users through advertising, rather than freeloading on the newsfeed, as they did before the change.

If you run an app and it stops working, be prepared for people to shout about it just like above. You may even get websites creating blogs on how to fix it or common issues. For example, this blog on mail app issues is there to capitalise on Apple Mail issues.