On Snapchat’s filters, interface, and user experience

Just a couple of thoughts about how Snapchat is a demonstration of how far we have got in terms of computing power and pervasiveness of technology, as well as how this app is one of the possible shifters about what mass media means nowadays.

Vox has published a nice video about how Snapchat lenses, commonly known as filters, work. As a someone that once researched on digital image processing algorithms, and learned about their possible complexity and computing demand, I’m really marveled about accessible facial recognition algorithms have become. The Snapchat filters motivated me to install this app, and once I tried them myself, I was like “Wooooow… Oh boy, it’s true that we had supercomputers in our hands every day, and it seems that we just take them for granted!”

Have you used snapchat? From my viewpoint, Snapchat’s UX feels very clumsy sometimes, but it’s very interesting. When I started using this app, I felt that gestures and screens were everywhere, I had no idea about what was going on! Swiping here, tapping there! I guess it breaks somehow one of my rules as a designer and teacher: always tell the user where she is, and where she can go from here. However, I also considered that young users are so used to smartphones and gestures, and swiping screens 100 miles per hour, that it’d be me who is a bit old to use snapchat. You know, that snapchat is for cool young fellas. Also, it took me a while to get what the icons (visual cues) in the interface means I wasn’t sure why sometimes I see this or that icon. For example, the public snaps (known there as a user’s story) have a little pie chart icon. I wasn’t sure if it’s about time or number of public snaps. It took me a while to understand that it’s about the life of the public snaps, the remaining time they have before they disappear.

Notwithstanding, I have to emphasize an aspect about Snapchat. This app has a UX/UI quality I do research on: delightfulness. Certainly, applying filters to your face contributes to having a delightful UX. It’s pretty fun to see yourself be converted into a puppy, rainbow pukey person, or a nymph. People love it! I do think that Snapchat filters have contributed a lot to making this app something mainstream, finally. The app’s been out there for a while and it seems that it hadn’t taken off. Nevertheless, it’s not only about the filters. I do enjoy and appreciate how interfaces components are animated in Snapchat. For example, when you close a public snap, it’s quite cool to have that circle out transition when you make a long swipe. I see this combination of gesture (long swipe down) and animation (transition) just great! It breaks the boring idea that screens are only to be tapped on. 

Demonstration of how filters work -- Screenshot from the Snapchat website
Demonstration of how filters work — Screenshot from the Snapchat website

I think part of this UX delightfulness relates to what Snapchat could become: the new television. It seems quite enjoyable to “decide” what you want to watch and follow–of course, we have to consider all the brands (channels) that Snapchat puts there for us to watch. It’s somehow like a new way of switching channels. Just tap on the things you want to watch or not, and do it at any time and any place. Further, there’s a chance to communicate with the snap creator, to influence and be influenced, to be a receiver but also a sender. Snapchat also allows us to emphasize the uniqueness of the moment or experience by adding geofilters, in which imagery functions to add more meaning and also to make an emotional connection. And everything happens so fast, just in 10 seconds! This seems to be pretty convenient for satisfying our need for information consumption in this now information overloaded world but without making us feel that we need to invest to much time on it. Don’t you think that this is exciting but a bit scary at the same time?

I can’t wait to see how Snapchat’s UI and UX will be improved. I’m not talking about having more filters and other fun and funny interactive features. I look forward to seeing how far Snapchat gets in the redefinition of mass media, marketing, and public participation. Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat seem to be on the same playfield. Let’s see how that turns out, and how their game will affect us and our everyday forms of communication and action.

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