The Danger of Misunderstanding Users

February 26, 2018

Snapchat’s redesign has been a case study in Design Thinking failure.  Strong statement, I know, but one that is seemingly validated by over one million petitioners advocating against their latest update. Coupled with a nearly $1.3 billion dollar loss in market value, this massive and seemingly overnight decline can be tied to one thing: a failure to understand user needs.


It’s one thing to collect user feedback, it is an entirely different thing to analyze that feedback and apply it to your product.  In a video promoting the most recent design update, Snapchat co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel  says “one of the complaints we have heard about social media is that photos and videos from your friends are mixed in with content from publishers, and creators, and influencers…today we are removing the social from the media.”


When you dissect that quote, notice there is no mention of this being a direct criticism of Snapchat’s old format, simply a critique of social media in general.  While Snapchat was on the right track, aggregating social media user data, they seemed to have missed the mark when it came to issues specifically associated with their offering.  Personally, when it comes to that particular critique, I find it applies more to Facebook and Buzzfeed than previous incarnations of Snapchat (Buzzfeed, if you are reading this, please remove the ads from the middle of your quizzes).


Another troubling quote from Spiegel claims that the complaints from users “validate the redesign”.  On stage at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference, Spiegel said: “One of the complaints we got is, ‘Wow, I used to feel this celebrity was my friend and now I don’t feel like they’re my friend anymore’. Exactly. They’re not your friend.”


What Spiegel doesn’t seem to grasp is that this “validation” is meaningless.  It validates that the design was successful in “removing the social from the media”, but it contradicts the working theory that that was a feature user’s desired.  The complaints are pouring in and addressing a similar, cohesive theme: user’s enjoyed pretending they were just as involved in Chrissy Teigen’s life as they were their roommate’s.


Celebrities, who had used the curated guise of a personal relationship to further market themselves and their image, also seem taken aback by the changes, with Kylie Jenner creating quite a stir through decreased patronage of the app.  While social media as a whole has progressed as a primary communication platform between celebrities and the common people, Snapchat took it upon themselves to step away from that accepted medium.

Snapchat failed to fully understand the market they were in. Not only did they incorrectly interpret the desired user experience within their application, they took the approach of “we know what’s best for you”, almost insulting user’s for whom the highlight of Snapchat was celebrity interaction.


Design Thinking demands that a product be developed only with the end user in mind, testing and vetting product ideas through user persona’s, use cases, focus groups and workflows before fully committing to a solution.  The end result is a product that was designed for the user, and in a way, by the user.  Contact ClearObject today to learn how your product could benefit from Design Thinking.

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ClearObject is a digital transformation leader in Internet of Things (IoT) Engineering and Analytics. As IBM Watson IoT and Google Cloud Business Partners, we deliver global embedded software development environments for our customers, and design and deliver unique data analytics digital products that help them recognize the value of their data. Our objective is clear: help the world’s best companies build intelligence into their products and gain intelligence from them.

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