When users take your product into a different direction and why you should cope with it

How hurricane Harvey offered an improved use case for Snapchat’s Snap Map

A hint, you build it for them and they, well… are the ones who use it…

When designing new solutions, these are meant to be started with a target audience in mind, the ideal type of person or group of people for whom we are going to solve a problem or add value. However, even when users’ feedback is key to iterate and validate assumptions towards the proposed solution, from time to time, there are occasions where circumstances lead to a complete different use of that product, usually one that is very different from the original.

This time was the turn of Snapchat’s Snap Map, a feature introduced not long ago by the social-media-dogface-filter giant. It allows users to share their location in a map, as well as add content into publicly available stories that others can see.

Here’s how it works:

“On the Snap Map, you can view Snaps of sporting events, celebrations, breaking news and more from all over the world 🗺️ To open the Map, just go to the Camera screen and pinch your fingers in to “zoom out”!
Snaps are submitted to Our Story from almost everywhere — just tap anywhere on the Map to view Snaps from that area! You can also follow the heatmap: blue means that some Snaps were taken at that spot, while red means there are loads 🔥”
(Credit: Snapchat)

Although Snapchat’s idea behind this feature was also meant to fulfil these type of needs around breaking news, it was not been taking so seriously until Harvey arrived to Houston last week, mostly because the nature and general demographics of their user-base. However, it immediately became powerful tool for people and reporters to see what was going on, the latter, not usually associated with the use of this mobile app; to the point that is now been considered as a go-to tool for several of them. Becoming a way to monitor what’g going on in real time, even replacing Twitter for some of them.

Interesting and fascinating. How this tool, which under the original context of social sharing among young users can be seen as trivial and frivolous, played a key role under complex situation.

The morale of the story?

No matter how well defined your user research can be, how agile and dynamic you are as a company, or how well your goals are set, users will always have the last word when it comes to the real use of your solutions; and that it is something that no one can force.

“Snapchat really wants people to use its feature to meet up with friends nearby or to see what they’re up to. But as Harvey showed, its best-use case might be giving us a glimpse into the lives of anonymous strangers, particularly in times when our empathy, aid and attention are needed.”
— The Washington Post

Traditional organisations need to understand this approach, how it really works and the value behind it, avoiding a divorce from reality, only focusing in goals or objectives.

There is no value in implementing new methodologies or approaches when developing “solutions”, if then user feedback is going to be blindly disregarded in the name of roadmaps, goals or initial requirements. Ultimately, solutions are created to serve an audience with certain requirements, and these might change or evolve; users are the ones supposed to help you set the right direction. Yes, there will be surprises from time to time, but rather than avoiding them, embrace them, and use them as a way to measure maturity and even success.

Is about learning to let go, prioritisation, and serve those that need it the most.

If you are not willing to be flexible upon this reality, then you won’t be able to adapt accordingly to new demands, manage expectations and deliver what your users really want.