The first time I used Snapchat, it felt good. I’m not talking specifically about sending a picture or sharing a video; I’m talking about the overall experience. Navigating the layouts. Adding my first few friends. Recording my first Snap. It all felt new and, for lack of a better term, it all felt slim.
Snapchat’s design isn’t perfect, but it did accomplish something very important: It made me want to keep using it. I’ve briefly examined why I wanted to revisit the app again and again, and I’ve summed it up as a design principle I call Slim Design.
"You're creating principles now? Where did *that* come from?"
Like most developers, I grew up in a world where apps and smart devices didn’t exist. I took my first plunge into the internet on my family’s clunky living room computer. I had my own PC when I started writing my first lines of HTML and CSS. By the time I traded in my flip phone for a smart phone in 2011, I had a pretty solid idea of how a good website looked and functioned.
Around the time I started seriously learning to create websites, responsive design was claiming the design throne. Sensationalists were already declaring the death of the desktop computer. Long live the Mobile Devices! I didn’t really understand the hype: My PC still worked way better than my phone, and I had no plans to stop using it.
"But not you're all about mobile? What made you change your mind?"
I never changed my mind. I still believe desktop computers are better for most tasks—have you tried writing an essay on a phone? However, mobile devices have inspired a new type of design that is rarely accomplished on desktop. It’s slim.
To be clear: When I say design, I’m not just talking about how it looks. Modern mobile apps are designed to be simple and fun to use. The experience is slim.
With Snapchat, it’s easy to open the app, accomplish a task, and move on with your day in no more than a few minutes. That’s not just because of its highly spatial layout or its simplistic camera interface. It’s just designed to be quick. The whole premise of Snapchat is speed. Fast things also tend to be slim and trim.
"Would you shut up about Snapchat? Snapchat is for weirdos and teenagers."
Don’t be quick to spurn Snapchat because of its reputation. It’s not Facebook or Twitter, but that’s what makes it great. That’s exactly what makes modern mobile apps so full of opportunity: They’re not the user experiences we grew up with.
Mobile apps don’t need bulky navigation menus or sidebars or headers or footers. They only need enough elements to get the job done quickly and enjoyably. They don’t ask you to stick around for a while. They give you what you need and tell you to get the hell out, knowing that you’ll come back.
"So...what? Desktop apps aren't rude enough for you?"
Desktop apps, also known as web apps, carry the weight of history and tradition. They’re bulky because they’re made to harbor your attention and gather your sweet, sweet clicks. If traditional businesses had their way, we’d never leave their websites. Modern, mobile, slim businesses know we don’t have the attention span for that anymore.
Mobile apps respect your time and attention. Snapchat gave us temporary content. Vine gave us super short videos. Twitter, ahead of its time, forced us to be concise.
"Vine and Twitter are also on desktop, though. Get your facts straight!"
Slim Design, as I’m going to trend-settingly call it, isn’t exclusive to mobile devices—that’s just where it originated. Eventually, I don’t think websites and web apps will have a choice but to slim down.
No one has time to search through your website anymore. We don’t want drop-downs, accordions, carousels, or even hamburgers. We want to get a job done, and we want to do it quickly.
"How do I accomplish Slim Design?"
That’s a big question, which I’d love to answer in-depth another time. Honestly, though, I’m not entirely sure. I’m neither a seasoned designer nor a mobile developer. I’m certainly working my way into the mobile space, but there is a lot to learn.
For now, I’d just recommend familiarizing yourself with modern mobile apps. If you don’t already, start using some on a regular basis. Hop on Snapchat; add me (@mikewcornish). We didn’t grow up with mobile apps, so we have to intentionally teach ourselves what they’re all about.