Mysterious Snap Concept

Make Snapchat Fun Again

Maggie Ying
May 11 · 10 min read
Courtesy of Snapchat, Inc.

Research: the Norm of Sending “Meaningless” Content on Snapchat

You open Snapchat. Unread messages from your friends have filled up most of your inbox. You tap open the first message. A picture of a laptop keyboard. No caption. The second pic features the ceiling of the lecture hall. No caption again. The third one does have a caption. “Streak” — so it says. Out of boredom, you quit Snapchat, half wondering why you are still using this app.

The scenario above is very familiar to many Snapchat users these days. Originally, Snapchat introduced the feature of streak to encourage its users to interact on a daily basis. But streak has also produced an unwanted side effect: more and more people are snapping meaningless content simply to keep streaks alive.

When speaking with Snapchat users around me, I heard much complaint about how this norm has taken away the appeal of Snapchat content:

I was having more fun when I first started Snapchat because it was a new concept and everything felt so “snappable”. But now I always get a lot of selfies and random pictures because people send them just to keep streaks…

“Fun” is a keyword embedded in the mission statement of Snapchat, but it seems be slipping away from the day-to-day experience of the app. Users often feel like they are wasting time on processing these repetitive pictures of objects on Snapchat. However, they also do not want to quit this platform altogether because Snapchatting with friends has become part of their daily routine. As a result, most just get stuck with this dull, somewhat frustrating Snapchat experience.

I thereby derived the People Problem below from my observations:

People want to exchange more meaningful interactions with their friends on Snapchat, but they can’t do that well because

• sending “meaningless” content (e.g. pictures of a ceiling) just to maintain the streaks has become a norm


I recruited my friends Coco Lou and Xiaoxiang Ma, both aspiring product designers, to brainstorm potential solutions.

3 AM Brainstorming Session

To motivate the brainstorming session, I rephrased the People Problem as an open-ended question:

How might we incentivize Snapchat users to share more meaningful interactions with their friends?

After 2 hours of intense thinking, we reached the 6 potential solutions below.

Potential Solutions to People Problem

When evaluating the potential solutions, I reminded myself of the two keywords in the People Problem:

1) Meaningful

Users want interactions to be meaningful so that they don’t feel like wasting idle time on their phones. Snapchat is a platform designed for fast and fun communication, and its users understand this concept very well. In this context, “meaningful interactions” don’t have to entail serious or important content. Instead, “meaningful” could connote hilarious, exciting, shocking, etc. — any antonym of boring. Unfortunately, the current norm of sending predictable streak messages has bored Snapchat users. Effective solutions should break this pattern and restore users’ anticipation for receiving Snaps.

2) Interaction

This is the main reason why we stay on Snapchat, or frankly, any social media in general. We want to engage with our friends, even when we are miles apart from each other. Yet, the frequency and quality of interactions on Snapchat have stagnated. An ideal solution should focus on revitalizing the interaction experiences within Snapchat.

In addition, I also used SWOT diagram and Impact/Feasibility matrix to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each feature.

Left: SWOT Analysis; Right: Impact/Feasibility Matrix

After the comprehensive evaluation, I eventually decided to pursue the Mysterious Snap feature because:

  • it combines the best of both worlds — impact and feasibility
  • it naturally carries the casual, playful vibe of Snapchat

Initial Development

In simple terms, one can interpret Mysterious Snap as anonymous messaging on Snapchat. But it is not that simple. Mysterious Snap takes what Snapchat is already doing to a further step.

Unlike other messaging apps, Snapchat does not allow preview for its message content. All you know is the type of the message, whether it is a text, picture, or video. Through this approach, Snapchat is consciously building up users’ anticipation for messages. By hiding all message information, including sender identity and message type, Mysterious Snap would make users crave Snapchat content even more. Users would also be more inclined to send meaningful content through Mysterious Snap. Last but not the least, the “mystery” concept aligns with the company’s mission statement: fun and fast communication. It has great potential for integrating seamlessly into the current Snapchat features.

In the early stages of developing Mysterious Snap, I focused heavily on the sender side of the interaction. Hoping to keep users in every step of the sending process, I implemented these following functions in the sending process:

  • Emoji Label — senders can personalize Mysterious Snap by labelling their message titles with emojis
  • Reveal Identity after Designated Time—recipients can discover who sent the Mysterious Snap only after the amount of time designated by the sender has passed, which builds up more suspense
  • Send to up to 3 Friends—limiting the number of Mysterious Snap recipient each time could prevent the norm of streaks from repeating itself
Very very early stage of user flow
Annotated Low-Fidelity User Flow
Mysterious Snap icon

During this step, I also designed the icon for Mysterious Snap entry point. It is the comedy mask in Sock and Buskin, which accurately represents the fun, mischievous vibe that I had envisioned for Mysterious Snap. Like other Snapchat icons, it is framed by very simple outlines.

During mid-fidelity iterations, I focused on exploring entry point location, set up of emoji keyboard, and how to display sender identity.

Mid-fi Iterations

User Testing, Difficulties, and Major Changes

I eventually used Iteration 1 for user testing. Due to time and resource constraint, I could only interview fellow students around me, but I made sure to speak to as many people as possible to gather a variety of opinions.

The user test findings exposed several major problems of the feature’s core components:

  • Emoji Labels — users find it more annoying than fun having to customize the emojis every time
  • Reveal Identity After Designated Time—users generally do not have the tendency to revisit Snapchat messages, meaning that they might forget to check the sender of Mysterious Snap
  • Send to Up to 3 Friends — users think the limit is arbitrary or even unnecessary (“What if I want to send to 5 friends?)

During user tests, I found myself explaining A LOT about the reasoning behind each step. In my struggling effort to justify my design decisions to the users, I realized that the various functions I implemented in Mysterious Snap possibly overstretched the flow and created many spots vulnerable to user friction.

One way to simplify the user flow is to remove the time selection step component, which confused users the most during testing. That way, sender identity will always be revealed right away. However, I worry instant reveal of the sender will cause Mysterious Snap to get old very quickly. If users grow bored of Mysterious Snap, they will not use the feature any more, let alone having fun with it. This would completely defeat my initial motivation to create more meaningful interactions for Snapchat users.

Stuck on the problem for days, I sought help from a teaching assistant of the product design course. He pointed out that my current design left out the recipient side for the most part, as all they do is passively receiving and viewing the Mysterious Snap. “What if you give the recipients hints about the sender?” He suggested.

Inspired by this idea, I settled down on a new component for my feature after further explorations—a guessing process on the recipient’s side. Once the recipient has viewed the Mysterious Snap message content, he or she will be immediately presented with 3 possible senders. The system will provide different reactions to right and wrong guesses. Then, the sender would receive a notification on the result of the guess.

I decided to remove the previous components of Mysterious Snap altogether — emoji labels, time selection, limit of recipients. Despite of my optimistic visualization of them as perfect additions to Mysterious Snap, user tests prove that these components contribute more friction than value to the feature overall.

With this change in feature structure, I could resolve my prior issue because:

  • it significantly simplifies the sending process of Mysterious Snap
  • instilling a sense of suspense and excitement, the guessing part eliminates any possibility of boredom
  • sender and recipient are now equally engaged
  • the result of the guess will encourage further interactions between sender and recipient

Visual Explorations

Purple would have been a great fit for the mystery concept, but it is already used for the video product line of Snapchat. Therefore, I decided to use orange instead. Symbolizing motion, excitement and fun, orange perfectly connotes the playful vibe of Mysterious Snap. I will frame the camera screen with an orange outline once the user has entered Mysterious Snap mode. Mysterious Snap messages are also marked as orange.

The avatar on the Mysterious Snap message is a ghost with little devil horns. The question mark symbolizes the anonymous status of the sender. The devil emojis are intended to draw more attention to the Mysterious Snap message.

After the recipient makes a conjecture, emojis of confetti or ghosts would start raining in the screen as responses to correct/wrong guesses. I picked this reaction because

  • it provides the most visible response
  • it aligns with Snapchat’s abundant use of emojis

The “Snap” button is highlighted in purple and positioned on the top to encourage further interactions between users. The copy of the dismiss button carries on the playful tone of standard Snapchat language.

Final Flow

A notification will flash across the screen for a few seconds when the user enters Mysterious Snap mode. The orange frame serves as a second indicator.

Recipient Guessed It Correctly
Oops! Recipient Guessed It Wrong

The sender receives different notifications depending on the guess result.

This is the video prototype that demonstrates the final flow of Mysterious Snap. Enjoy!


While walking in the shoes of users, I also kept in mind about the mission statement of Snapchat:

We contribute to human progress by empowering people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together.

When evaluating my design throughout the case study, I was constantly asking myself: Am I actively motivating interactions between users? Does this represent the fast and fun way of communication that Snapchat pursues? Does this decision embody the company values of Snapchat?

Of course, Mysterious Snap is no way near perfect. For example, it is currently only limited to picture and video messages and do not extend to the Stories product line of Snapchat. However, that means the feature also has great potential for further development.

The collective guessing process resembles a mini game. If there were to be a score system to keep track of the number of successful guesses, users would have even more motivation to engage in Mysterious Snap. I hope to explore this idea in depth in the near future.

This is my very first encounter with product design, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. From conducting user research to playing around with Sketch to grinding high fidelity designs, every step of the problem solving process fascinates me. I have learned the beginner steps to think about real world problems, to think from the perspective of both the user and the company, and to think like a designer. I am beyond thankful to all the friends and mentors who have helped me along the way.

This is a case study for Introduction to Digital Product Design class. I am in no way affiliated with Snapchat. Please don’t hesitate to leave any comments or reach out to me!

Maggie Ying

Written by

Economics and Information Science @Cornell | |

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