Instagram Design: The Evolution of the Instagram App

Instagram Design: The Evolution of the Instagram App

Published: September 28, 2022

As apps grow and develop, so do their logos and designs. It’s a natural part of an app’s life cycle, and Instagram design is no different. The iconic camera logo has undergone some fairly noticeable changes over the years, and the same is true for the user interface and features. While the app is, generally speaking, recognizable in comparison to previous iterations, newer users would be surprised at how much it’s evolved.

Join us on a journey through the iconic app’s evolution and discover all you’ve never known about Mark Zuckerberg’s finest acquisition in Meta’s history.

An Instagram Throwback

It’s 2009, and 27-year-old Kevin Systrom, a Stanford University graduate, is building a web app that would allow users to share photos. At the time, Systrom had little to no formal training in coding, but with the help of Mike Krieger, an engineer and user experience designer, he could complete the app called Burbn at the time. Krieger’s role in the process was to reassess and help redesign less than ideal features of the app, and help Systrom smoothen out the rough edges, so to speak.

They relied on leading apps in the photography category to pinpoint exactly what they’d like their new app to be. After browsing through all the top apps they could find at the time, they could attain clarity of purpose regarding Burbn’s identity — it was a simple app that allowed users to share photos and see other people’s photos without unnecessary features cluttering the space.

Fast forward to 2010, and the now redesigned and polished Burbn is due for another significant change for the iOS release — it becomes Instagram, an instant telegram. In just one day, the app blew up, reaching 25,000 users. By 2012, that number climbed to a whopping 27 million, and with the release of the Android version, the number skyrocketed once more.

Zuckerberg took notice and in April 2012, decided to acquire Instagram for a total of $1 billion in cash and stocks while also allowing the app to be independently managed as part of the agreement. It turned out to be one of, if not the most lucrative purchases in Facebook’s history, as Instagram maintained its upward momentum to this day.

Instagram app design
[Source: Protocol]

The Ebb and Flow of Instagram UI

In the twelve years that we’ve had Instagram, its user interface has gone through some distinct changes and redesigns. Throughout all these years of updates, Instagram never once lost its visual identity — its unique appearance can be traced back to the first versions of the app. If you were to show the first iterations of the app to a new user, they would still easily recognize it to be Instagram, albeit less appealing by today’s standards.

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Looking at the app designs from 2010 to 2016, they will seem all too familiar, with most of the stark differences being tied to the color palette. Blue, white, and dark grey hues dominate the app, most noticeably on the navigation bar. The dark grey shade caused the navigation bar to protrude from the rest of the UI, making it impossible to miss. It was always exceedingly simple to find, no matter what else was showing on the feed. Dark grey and bluish hues allowed for quick navigation, reinforcing the creators’ idea to keep the app simple and avoid unnecessary complexities.

The iconography also evolved with time. The heart icon denoting the Popular tab in 2010 and 2011 later denoted likes, comments, and follows. The in-app logo has also changed several times, ever becoming more on-brand with what Instagram was all about. In general, icons became more understandable and better placed as Instagram developed. Despite these changes, app users never had trouble identifying which icon served which purpose, as the goal was never to steer too far from the original concept.

The first serious UI change took place in 2016, with a version of Instagram that took the app’s minimalism and tidiness to a whole new level. Color use, which was already limited to a couple of tones, was cut down to a white aesthetic to make it as undisruptive as possible. The emphasis was on the feed and its contents; everything else was secondary to that. White color and line iconography contributed to the app’s simplicity, which was always in the forefront of Instagram.

Changes to the central camera icon are also worth mentioning. Its replacement with a plus icon denoted a clear redirection towards an app that was for more than just photo sharing. With the addition of several new features, the change of the camera icon became perfectly appropriate.

Features Evolved Alongside the App

Instagram was never meant to be anything more than an app for sharing photos and viewing them. Systrom and Krieger found that other apps in the category were bloated with features that add little to no value while subtracting from user experience and making apps clunkier and less responsive. Not to mention that every added feature makes UI less user-friendly and more chaotic.

However, Instagram also couldn’t afford to fall behind its competitors or ignore users’ wants and needs. The addition of new features was to be expected — the only question was which features and how many of them.

While Instagram had already veered towards becoming a fully-fledged social media platform, the addition of now famous features of Insta sealed the deal, making it one of the most popular social media channels in the world. Incorporating Instagram Stories, live videos, and IGTV videos transformed the simple photo-sharing app into the social media powerhouse it is today.

Interestingly, none of the additions to Instagram made the app more cluttered. The UI remained simple and well-organized, just like the original creators intended. The choice of features to be added, their careful placement on the UI, and their intelligent use of users’ viewports kept Instagram clean, just like it was on the day it launched.

Instagram app design: evolution of logo
[Source: 1000 Logos]

How Instagram Logo Design Adapted Over Time

If there’s one thing that’s changed quite drastically over time, it’s the Instagram logo design. While UI evolved only ever so slightly, the logo had to undergo a serious redesign to get to where it is today.

The old-school camera that adorned the early Instagram app opposed the creators’ desired minimalism. Too many intrinsic details and muted colors made the initial logo quite complex from a design viewpoint. As the look and feel of the rest of Instagram elements were heading in a more simplistic direction, much like the rest of the industry, so was the logo.

Over time, the Instagram logo became more vibrant visually and far less complex. The old-school camera gave way to a less robust one, culminating in a design that only barely resembles a camera. The current logo uses fewer colors but more vivacious ones.

The current iteration of the logo is on par with the brand itself, which is all about observing the world in full spectrum, with all its beauty and accentuated colors and hues.

Instagram Logo in the Spotlight

Perhaps the greatest testament to Instagram’s success lies in its widespread adoption that crosses all cultures and borders. It’s done exceedingly well for a photo-sharing app, as proven by the fact that there’s no large brand out there that doesn’t have an Instagram account.

But there’s more to it than just massive brands reaching target audiences on Insta. Wherever you look, whether it’s billboards, TV adverts, or even restaurant menus, you will find the tiny camera logo looking right back at you, inviting you to share your brand experience on your Instagram account.

It’s not easy to say why Instagram has become a household name in such a short time, but its success is undeniable. While some point the finger at Facebook and claim its acquisition of Instagram to be the main culprit behind its enormous success, it is crucial to remember that the app had already garnered millions of users before the billion-dollar transaction.

There’s something about the inherent simplicity of Instagram that appeals to the users and drives them to engage more than they would on other social media platforms. It still has ways to go before surpassing Facebook in terms of users, but it’s slowly and surely getting there.

It would seem that there’s truth in both statements. Systrom and Krieger made a game-changing app that Facebook bought and made profitable. In any case, Instagram is an app that billions now love and enjoy on a daily basis, and it’s only getting better.

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