February 14, 2023

How Snapchat and Netflix designs products by breaking UX laws?

How Snapchat and Netflix designs products by breaking UX laws?

It’s not new that Snapchat’s usability isn’t the best. They even had to include ten black and white diagrams in their IPO filing just to help potential investors (i.e. olds) understand it.

Most websites and apps that came along in the early days of the internet had terrible experiences. They had cluttered home pages and distracting color palettes. So how did Snapchat eventually prevail?

Here’s how Snapchat breaks all design principles to build a successful product

With more than 500+ million downloads on the Google Play Store alone and over 160 million active users each day, Snapchat has caught the attention of its users with its complicated user experience that includes:

  • Confusing iconography
  • Non-existent labels
  • Hidden app functionalities
  • Complicated navigation without guidance

However, Snapchat’s user experience is not bad. It’s actually an incredibly smart design. Their challenging user experience is what keeps them relevant to their primary target audience: teenagers and millennials. Here’s how they nail it:

1. Winning the User Psychology with Gamification

Snapchat understood its users’ psychology and made certain features challenging to access intuitively. A very simple, yet ingenious, example is the Streaks Count in Snapchat. As you send more messages and snaps to your friends, you’ll earn new stickers for “best friends”, badges, and higher points to give some value to your friendships.

There is also a built-in trophy rewarding system. After reaching a specific milestone, you will get a trophy – a small badge that you can display on your profile.  It basically shows how active you are inside the app and how much time you spent in it; a certain status symbol in the Snapchat world that apparently creates a sense of superiority among users.

Everything is designed to engage users to interact with the interface more and stay in app for a longer period of time. This wonderful gamification strategy has been working successfully for Snapchat.

Millennials and Gen Z loves using Snapchat for increasing their streak scores. Most of the snaps sent for streaks are just blank and random snaps that really don’t spark a conversation. Yet, somehow, users are compelled to open Snapchat daily and interact.

How to gamify using the most popular design elements?

To gamify a product, the goal is to get your user into the game and keep them playing: acquisition and retention. Let’s look at the most popular ones:

Gamified elements of avatars, points and badges in Snapchat.
  1. Rewards, Points, and Badges: Monetary or non-monetary incentives that encourage task completion
  2. Leaderboards: Rankings to create a dopamine-induced competition.
  3. Avatars: Creating a character to give a body or a form to your virtual character provides a narrative to your product user.
  4. Gifting: A referral or a campaign that can boost acquisition and retention
  5. Challenges: Missions and valuable tasks introduced that lead to an adrenaline rush in your user.
  6. Feedback: An interactive response from the product that guides how to successfully use the product.

2. Raising the hype and awareness with challenging features

In early 2018, Snapchat rolled out a major redesign. The resulting layout confused users and made access to features difficult. Snapchat’s target audience were teenagers, initially, so the company decided to focus on the mass market, and it was willing to sacrifice some of its cool points to reach that market.

Ultimately, this choice paid off in the end. Even teenagers find Snapchat’s user interface challenging, but it becomes a game for them as a means of being cool and fitting in with their peers.

Every time a new feature is added to Snapchat, thousands of people ask each other how it works. Each time, that chit-chat raises awareness of Snapchat.

Snapchat’s Spotlight Challenge

How to master the art of hype by designing challenging yet provocative features?

  1. Use the scarcity principle: Persuade people to take desired actions. The scarcity principle means the rarer or more difficult it is to obtain a product, offer, or piece of content is, the more valuable it becomes.
  2. Add exclusivity factor: Invoke FOMO among your users. For instance, Snapchat content expires either immediately or after 24 hours. This leads to users creating content that is more lighthearted on uncensored than other more public-facing platforms.

3. Breaking the rule of simplicity with a complex UX

They have resorted to not adopt universal icons. Most elements have no labels and even the screen where users discover new content is slightly intimidating.

They created a more complex UX, but did so at the cost of sacrificing their cool factor. Their competitors are already implementing the feature on a larger scale. Yet the app’s mammoth success suggests that these UX decisions weren’t negatively affecting the platform.

In today’s time when a user is presented with complicated user experience, they don’t give the app a second chance. Here’s what differentiates Snapchat from other apps with bad UX:

  • The answer - target audience. It is their baffling UX that maintains Snapchat’s relevance to their key demographic: teens and millennials.
  • The target audience is as powerful as it is fickle, and capturing it means keeping Snapchat cool. And nothing kills cool faster than adults. Most adults won’t put in the effort to learn how to use the app, leading them to abandon the app ensuring Snapchat remains cool with only the teens.

4. Snapchat took innovation to a whole new level with their design

Snapchat swapped perfectionism for experimentation. From the sharing feature to its interactive filters, Snapchat engages the users as soon as they open the app with it’s unique and innovative design.

For instance, what happens when you install the app for the first time and open it? It swallows you immediately. After you launch it, it will open up and display your front camera. If you touch the screen, the special effects menu will open in the lower portion of your screen.

How does Snapchat nails innovation with unique design & capabilities?

  • Mystery UX: Snapchat gives users the freedom to swipe in all four directions. Each direction leads opens different features of the app, making the experience thrilling for users as they don’t know what to expect.
  • Fast Feedback: One great feature about Snapchat is its impeccable feedback. When a user takes a screenshot of another user’s story, the creator of the story is immediately notified. This ensures users that their privacy is being monitored.
  • Real-time Prompts: When a user is typing a message to another user, the potential receiver is immediately notified with a phone notification such as “Jimmy is typing a message…” This is a great example of real-time, immediate feedback.
  • Super easy: Snapchat makes sharing within other social media apps extremely easy and quick - another unique feature which was later adapted by Instagram too. Share, Edit & Send are the two buttons you will see quite often when you take a picture with Snapchat.

Netflix's Auto Preview Feature: A love-hate user experience

When it comes to Netflix, it gets most things right from a user experience perspective but there is still a small feature that has left its users torn: the infamous auto-playing of previews.

Netflix decided to autoplay the previews when a user hovers over the thumbnail. This feature annoyed many users and countless articles, tweets, blog posts were written about it where users complained about how annoying the autoplay feature was. But 4 years after the feature was introduced, it’s still here with Netflix only recently deciding to allow users in 2020 to opt-out manually if they really don’t want it.

  • With the preview sound, additional music also plays during the trailers. The music was in tune with the same essence as what the preview trailers displayed.
  • For a scary movie, there were scary screeching sounds, for a comedy, there was upbeat music; and for dramas, slow violins were playing. Now, this might sound trivial, but it is an extremely important feature from a UX perspective and makes a huge difference!
  • Ultimately, this innovative feature helped Netflix convey an experience to the user. You were able to know what experience you were about to get just within a few seconds of viewing the preview and without even reading the description! By combining both visual and audio cues, a feeling was successfully communicated to the user.

The hottest companies in the tech world challenged UX rules for a reason: they knew what their target audiences wanted. And that's what design is all about! Want to learn more about design? Book a session with our mentors today.