How Snapchat Uses UX/UI to Dominate

Chase Sater

Chase Sater

Content Strategy

In an app development landscape of increasingly minimalistic and flat user interfaces, Snapchat has set itself apart from the competition in terms of UX and UI for mobile communication. Since its 2011 release, the millennial-focused photo sharing app has etched itself a unique spot in the mobile app world.

Flat design is a massive trend right now, and we’ve grown quite used to seeing it in a lot of applications and interfaces we use throughout the day. The other side of that trend is flat navigation—the ‘unfolded box’ design that Snapchat uses to reward its users with a blissfully minimalistic experience, allowing the interface to rely  more on a user’s intuition than loud visual cues and buttons.

The primary word that comes to mind when navigating through Snapchat’s UI is thin. Snapchat is a simple app—it’s about using photo and video as communication between you and your friends. In Snapchat’s UI, “you and your friends” is a motif that is prioritized in almost every screen of the app. Snapchat is simple, intuitive, and in the know on what its users want. Snapchat is “cool.” 

A few years ago, we saw the same thing with Facebook –
but what made Zuckerberg billions is also inevitably what made young people lose their obsession with Facebook. Widespread adoption is great for business and innovation, but almost always results in a loss of “cool factor” amongst the younger users (who also happen to be the users that marketers and advertisers care the most about).

Snapchat’s ‘Cool’ Factor

After amassing 300 million users, one might expect that Snapchat would’ve lost its “cool factor” by now – but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Snapchat’s reputation amongst millennials and other younger users is amplified by the exclusivity created by its user interface. Snapchat has created an “in-the-know” culture around its app that continues to drive growth in younger smartphone owners and keep away older generations simply do not get the “point” of sending snaps back and forth.

Snapchat is one of the fastest user experiences from screen to screen in the current mobile app landscape. The interface seems to interact with user intuition perfectly—while still free from explicit labels and cues, Snapchat’s UI facilitates extremely fast navigation for those that have spent a little time getting used to the unique layout.

Lack of Navigational Cues

The lack of navigational cues within Snapchat’s interface is another bold move the company has made in maintaining extreme minimalism and catering to the desires of a younger audience that inherently understands tech navigation.

Minimalism is going nowhere in mobile app development. There has been a massive change in the way that technology is learned and understood in modern society. When it comes to mobile app navigation, teens don’t need to “learn” the interface like older adults do. Snapchat has recognized that younger generations don’t need to be constantly told where stuff is in an app.

Lack of navigational cues clearly defines the difference in approach by younger and older generations when it comes to mobile apps and technology. If you go into Snapchat already knowing how to navigate it, the app is blazingly fast and easy to use. However, if you have never used the app before, not knowing that you need to swipe in any given direction to move to the next menu can be pretty confusing.

The real question is: does Snap care about making their app more accessible and intuitive for the non-tech savvy? In general, the common wisdom goes, the more accessible an app is the better. But if you begin to look at it through the lens of Snapchat’s target user, suddenly becoming more accessible isn’t such a high priority. Millennials and Generation Z users already know that swiping up will result in an action—why does Snapchat need to tell them exactly what it does if they are going to learn it in less than two seconds anyways?

By Snapchat’s design logic, if the interface needs labels, it’s too complicated. Snapchat is made up of just eight simple screens that can all be accessed within just a few swipes of each other.

Redefining Ads on Social Media

This is the space where Snapchat’s interface really begins to show its true colors. Snapchat has no user profile pages for users to visit: all content is displayed full screen at all times for users. As opposed to scrolling through snippets of posts and advertisements in a crowded feed, as soon as you tap your friend’s name, the content automatically fills your screen and creates a much more natural viewing experience.

The internet formula for ads has been the same for a long time: get a lot of views on content and display ads placed on sidebars and before videos. Regardless of the platform—photos, videos, words—the monetization process is the same. Snapchat changes this.

Snap has created an ad experience that is largely unobtrusive and that users actually enjoy viewing. The only annoying ad is immediately skippable, and sometimes I regularly have days without having one of my friends’ stories interrupted.

Snapchat’s ephemeral, image-based messaging system is no longer that innovative—Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp all have features that can do anything the original Snap app can do. However, the community that Snapchat has formed and the way Snapchat has monetized this community is extremely innovative, and it’s unlikely that any other social media platform will be able to recreate something similar. 

An Interface to Change the Game

One thing is for certain: Snapchat isn’t going anywhere in the near future. While it may be somewhat hidden and hard to identify, there is clearly something about Snapchat’s distinctive design and navigation experience that keeps younger users coming back to both create and consume content.

While many platforms can and will mimic Snapchat’s original feature set, it’s almost impossible to recreate the feeling that Snapchat users get when sending ephemeral messages and tapping through BuzzFeed stories at work. For Snapchat, it’s the seamless design and intuitive user interface that give it an advantage: success is baked into the very structure of the app.