Instagram Refreshes Their Feed

Today, the social media giant Instagram revealed a major refresh to their brand – the most dramatic change to their identity in their 5 and a half year history. They’ve permanently unfollowed their cute lil’ camera illustration and his chunky, single-color counterpart in favor of a simplified mark and a bright colorful icon.

Instagram has grown a lot over the years, having added tons of new bells and whistles since being acquired by Facebook in 2012, spinning off a family of related apps, and adding millions and millions of new users, however, their identity has remained mostly constant through all of this, aside from this one obvious design fix:


So the timing was definitely right for a major audit of their brand, and the move to a flat line-art style certainly modernizes the brand and aligns with current design trends. In a lot of ways, this move was a fairly obvious no-brainer and, for better or worse, the results they landed on here are also fairly obvious.

The new logo does fix a major problem with their old brand, which is that so much was lost in the translation from the fully illustrated camera of their former app icon to the glyph, used everywhere else. One was iconic, pretty and unique, while the other was clunky and common looking. Now, by using the same simplified mark for both the icon and the glyph, they can achieve consistency and eliminate brand confusion. The app world also has some unique branding considerations too, since the app icon (what you see on your phone’s home screen) is arguably more important / visible for these companies than their actual logo and the two are often confused or used interchangeably. So by combining both into one simple and clear mark, their new brand is already much more functional.

I worry that something else has been lost in translation here though. To my mind, one of the major strengths of their brand has been the way it alludes to the nostalgia of instant photos, through the obvious portmanteau of their name and fuzzy vintage-looking filters, but also their vaguely Polaroid-esque camera icon. Even though we’ve had cameras on our cellphones pretty much as long as we’ve had cellphones, Instagram was still able to position itself as the futuristic rebirth of the Polaroid. I think this came from more than just filters with dust and scratches, it was the emotional connection and instant gratification of being out somewhere, snapping a photo, and being able to share it instantly with your friends. While the platform is certainly better than ever at achieving this goal, this new identity doesn’t really connect to this feeling in any wayin fact, out of context, the refreshed logo is barely recognizable as a camera at all since it’s really more referential to the old Instagram logo than anything else. Although, perhaps this just means that we’ve crossed a generational threshold where now a majority of smartphone users have never seen nor experienced the unique joy of using a Polaroid camera, now an ancient relic from the past, and this argument no longer holds water..

Speaking of bridging the gap between old and new, Instagram has stated that the bright multicolored gradient they’re now using is a continuation of their old vintage 4-striped rainbow, yet I’m not so sure about that. While this is certainly colorful and current (Apple recently re-introduced bright colored gradients for their native apps), something about this one feels more like it belongs to an older era of interactive design where everything was glossy and dimensional rather than being progressive and modern. To me, they’re missing the mark on “rainbow” or anything relating to capturing light, and only getting “sunset” – which I think is kind of a weak connection to tie together a photography-centric brand. The swirling hot colors are so energetic that I would have probably assumed this was a fitness brand at first glance. However, it does make for a bold and dynamic element to nicely tie in their sub-brands, as seen here:


My favorite part of this refresh is actually the change to the interface itself – ditching the overused shades of blue for a truly neutral and clean black, white and gray interface. While the interface redesign is probably the most subtle change, it seems like the most successful and sophisticated improvement they’ve made by far. From a usability standpoint, I love how simple and clean each various element of the app is now and I also feel this neutral approach is especially appropriate for a photo sharing app where all the beauty and color you could ever want is already being provided in mass quantities by users. This ux design takes the elevated approach that a gallery would, rather than an everyman’s tech toy like its parent company, Facebook.


Overall, I give Instagram a B+ on their 2016 brand refresh. The timing and thinking behind it were all on the right track, but the execution could’ve been better.