The newest version (9.0.2) of the iOS Snapchat application is an example of bad design. And for those who have never used Snapchat before the newest update, it is an example of horrendous design. Trying to navigate this version of Snapchat proves a perfect demonstration of the Norman idea that understandability rather than simplicity is the key to good design.
To start with visibility, the Snapchat application is a ghost. From the onset, it appears to be a game rather than a photo application. Upon entering the application, the home screen is the view from one’s iPhone camera with the following ambiguous icons: a large circle in the bottom center; a small box on the bottom left; a box made up of three small lines on the bottom right; a flash symbol on the top left; a symbol of arrows on the top right; and a “ghost” on the top middle (See home screen on the right). While the camera view indicates that a photo can be taken, the user still may not know what the application is for other than taking said photo. And nowhere on the home screen does the application indicate that this potential photo is meant to be a quick, ten-seconds or less image or video that can be edited and sent to selected friends or to the user’s “story.”
Because the iOS Snapchat application relies on a touch-screen format, its mapping is not initially off. The user knows that he or she will have to touch the screen in order to make something happen, or, in this case, to take a picture and send it to a friend. From the home screen, the layout of the icons suggests that the center icon is the most important, but the shapes and layout of the other icons do not suggest what else the user can do. Only upon touching one of the icons is a user either directed to another Snapchat screen or a change is made to the camera view or setup.
To follow up on its unclear mapping, Snapchat’s offers few affordances as to how to take, edit, and send a photo. The large circle at the bottom of the home screen is somewhat of a clue that the icon is important, and the user may choose to touch that icon first. If the user does not choose that icon, he or she can change the camera view or end up on a completely different screen where a photo cannot be taken. But if the user does choose to touch the large circle icon first, he or she takes a photo and is then presented with the still image (or video) with five more vague icons (See editing screen on the left). One icon has a number in the middle, and suggests the time length of the image. Two icons to the right of the “time” icon do not hint at much at all. The top right icon is of a marker/pen/crayon/pencil and gives a small clue that maybe the photo can be written on. Without previous experience, the user would not know that the photo can be typed on, drawn on, filtered, time stamped, temperature stamped, or even marked with the current speed or location. The blinking arrow on the bottom right of the screen suggests sending the photo, although as to where is unclear until the user actually touches the icon and is brought to a different screen with a list of contacts (See “Send To…” screen on the right). This “Send To…” page is more clear in that it allows the user to check off users to send the photo to. And finally, upon sending the photo, the user is directed to the “snapchat” screen, which is actually a correspondence screen, in which the most recent recipient or sender is listed at the top of a feed of names with either boxes or arrows next to each name (received or sent images or videos).
To view a received photo, the user must figure out, most likely through trial and error, that the name in bold signifies an unread “snap” and that to view this snap, the user must touch and hold the image (or video), until its time is complete (See “Snapchat” screen on the left). Proving a lack of logical and cultural constraints, merely touching a name will not open an image or video.
If the user can finally take, edit, and send a photo or video to friends, they still may not know that the photo can be sent to the “Story,” or live, public (amongst all contacts) feed (See “Stories” screen on the right). They also may not know that the newest version of Snapchat offers a “Discover” icon, found at the top right of the “Stories” screen, where the user can view live stories from different organizations or institutions, such as CNN, ESPN, and People.
Snapchat’s feedback may be the only aspect that is not completely bad design. Once a user takes a photo and selects which friends to send it to, the screen automatically changes to a list of photo correspondences. This correspondence list shows the most recent photo recipient or sender at the top of the feed. If the photo did not send correctly, the recipient will not show up on the list. If the user has instead posted the photo to his or her “Story,” the photo shows up under the “Stories” list, where the user can then see whether or not the photo has uploaded correctly and who has viewed the photo. In terms of receiving photos, Snapchat notifies the user of received photos or received chat messages. The only problem with Snapchat’s feedback is that the user must first figure out how to navigate the overall application before recognizing what the different Snapchat screens (such as the correspondence list and “Stories” page) are used for.