The Struggle Over Snapchat's Controversial Redesign

When a tech company rolls out a major update for a b2c product that's been in use for years and has an army of loyal followers, it is fairly reasonable for it to expect to see a certain amount of backlash, especially if the changes affect the way the users interact with the app. After all, we tend to heavily rely on the acquired habits when dealing with a lot of tech products, and when those habits are being disrupted, even for good reasons, we become frustrated.

Still, when Snapchat introduced the redesigned version of its app back in November, I doubt that the company expected the backlash to turn out to be so severe. Since then, the complaints have never stopped, with an incredible number of users weighing in to demand the reversal of the redesign.

In the tech world today, reversing updates is not entirely unheard of, but it can be exceedingly tricky, especially for a major redesign like this: nobody wants to cave in to the public opinion and admit failure. However, what's more important is that in the world of continuous deployment and constant A/B testing, the decision to introduce major changes is never made blindly. Chances are, Snap had some sound reasons to go forward with this redesign (which, as they were most likely aware of, wouldn't necessarily be taken kindly by the users) - such as, for example, the expectations that the new design would help the company to better monetize the app. The fact that the recently released earnings beat the expectations, sending Snap's share price soaring, only confirms this hypothesis, as many observers connected the improved performance to the redesign.

So, it didn't came as a surprise when earlier this month Evan Spiegel (Snap CEO) defended the redesign, and announced that it's here to stay. That, however, wasn't the end of the story. As it turns out, a month ago, a user from Australia started a petition on, demanding Shap to reverse the update. Well, as of today, more than 1.2 million (!) people signed it. As a result, yesterday Snap responded to the petition, promising some changes to the app that, according to Snap, would help to alleviate at least some of the issues that the users were complaining about.

This is an interesting development, and definitely not a very common one: even though Snap haven't actually agreed to reverse the redesign (which, again, is totally unsurprising), the amount of backlash they received has ultimately forced them at least to try and communicate the upcoming change to the user community in a more transparent way, and possibly to make some concessions along the way as well (we don't really know whether the announced upcoming changes were planned in advance).

And while I personally don't agree that using to make such a demand was justified - in order for it to remain an effective vehicle to drive change, the users need to be cognizant of the social significance of the petitions they start - it certainly proved to be effective in this case, which might set an interesting precedent for the future battles between tech companies and their users.