Design Critique: Snapchat is counter-intuitive



With 173 million users, Snapchat continues to grow (slowly), despite its lack of well-planned design. Its competitor, Instagram, has adapted and improved the design model, greatly surpassing Snapchat’s daily user count to 250 million. Snapchat fails to provide users with affordances, mapping and constraints in its interface, being the perfect example of a design that is neither discoverable nor understandable.

When the Snapchat application is first opened, users can choose to either sign in or log-in. It then takes users to a main camera screen, with familiar camera options plus other buttons that do not afford users are supposed to interact with them. Then what is next?




Snapchat navigation is almost nonexistent. There is no linear flow of where the user should go, or signals that guide users where to swipe, push or press to their desired destinations. Users will discover (to their horror) a maze of unstructured, ungrouped items, forming an illogical structure map that only means one dreadful thing: users will have to learn the Snapchat language for them to use it. It is an overdrive of the gulf of execution and evaluation for the users.


Main interface- camera





Swiping up leads them to saved snaps and their camera roll. Swiping down displays a confusing newsfeed of top stories, music, other news, friends, quick add of possible friends, contacts etc..  Swiping left goes to the contact list, while swiping right leads users to their stories, and their friends’ stories. Swiping right twice, from the main camera screen, opens a (sponsored) snapchat news feed. There is no clear indication of where to access settings. Trial and error will show that clicking the unassuming ghost emoji will lead you there.




When the Instagram app is opened, users can see an organized line of their friends’ miniature photos. This indicates that these friends have uploaded stories available for viewing. To upload a story, there is a “+” sign indicated on the user’s profile photo, which affords and signals users that this is the button to click to add a photo. Next, a camera screen appears, and users are given the options to select whether they want to start a live video, take a normal photo or video, create a boomerang etc and so on. The user then can add filters or decorate their stories, with three simple buttons: buttons that afford putting stickers, drawing, or typing text, respectively. Users then can choose who they send their stories to, or if they prefer to place them in their personal story feed. Additionally, there is a save and download button on the lower-left side that saves the story directly to the user’s phone.


6 buttons of editing


Unlike Instagram, Snapchat’s stories do not play continuously (one friend’s story to the next). Snapchat users have to click on who’s story they would like to see next. After taking a photo, instead of three simple buttons used to decorate, snapchat provides 6: Text, drawing, cutting, hyperlinking, and a clock timer (indicates the shelf life of the snap once it has been opened). Double filters can also be applied but not indicated unless one is familiar with snapchat. One has to hold down a photo and continue swiping to add another filter. When downloading a snap, it does not get directly saved to a user’s phone. Instead, it is saved to a user’s snapchat album, which the user will have to access, find the photo and press save again in order for it to download to the phone. Aka: to save a photo to your device is to save it twice in Snapchat.



Photo: Aline Bradford/


The one good feature of Snapchat is its impeccable feedback. When another user takes a screenshot of a story, the user who created the story is immediately notified. When someone is typing a message to a user, the potential receiver is notified with a phone notification such as “Jimmy is typing a message…” This is a very good design concept as users receive real-time, immediate feedback on these two behaviors of their Snapchat friends.



Suggested mapping solution


Learning Snapchat is through trial and error. Despite its poor conceptual model, it still has millions of users worldwide. Perhaps it’s the gratification of figuring out how to work the app that makes users still use it. Either way, it is a very poorly-designed conceptual app, as it lacks affordances, signifiers, discoverability and understandability.

If Snapchat followed a more usable approach, perhaps they could hit their targets and overpower their victorious competitor, Instagram. My recommendations are:

  • Devise a more linear approach by eliminating North, South, East or West swiping to navigate. If not, create a user-friendly menu page
  • Follow a more consistent grouping pattern (ex. all news found only when you swipe left)
  • Improve signifiers and make use of actual words, given the amount of icons users are left guessing (ex. arrows with interactive icons or captions)




On top of all the design problems it presents, users are left baffled to what its main purpose is- Is it a messaging app? A photo messaging app? A news app? It’s company positioning is yet to be determined, just like a ghost- its mascot.