What is Snapchat Optimising For?

TLDR: Snapchat’s new update may be prioritising engagement with public stories over delightfulness

Snapchat just posted a pretty controversial update. They’ve overhauled the app’s layout, and don’t seem bothered by the backlash. I haven’t got the energy to join the rant party, so instead, here’s my hypothesis.

For starters, the app has never been intuitive. Its absurd UI patterns have purposely sacrificed ease of use for certain business goals. Snapchat, positioned as a camera app, when launched, lands straight on the viewfinder. And that’s weird because in our heads it’s a chat/social media app. But that decision reinforces the the camera idea and encourages shots by making snaps as frictionless as possible.

So they’ve got folks to snap, but are we watching the snaps? I doubt.

Today, stories and private chats are together on a single screen. My guess is, users are chatting with their contacts and in private groups much more than they are engaging with stories. And bringing them together forces you to engage. In the last couple of weeks, Snapchat has sent me several attention-craving push notifications saying “Kofi, Ama, Kuukua posted to their stories…”. And I’ve ignored them 😇.

Over at Snap HQ, someone’s probably feeling the heat for the decline in engagement with stories. Someone’s KPIs are in the red. But there must be a better option. These design decisions are prioritising engagement over delightfulness. It’s difficult work but it should be possible to meet a business’ goals without spitting in the users’ faces.

That said, they have the usage data, and are in a much much better position to make data-driven design decisions than I am. So I ask:

Snapchat, what are you optimising for?

Thanks for reading. I am on twitter most days. Are you a product designer in Accra? I would love to meet you. Let’s talk @kobbyannor