Instagram rebrand: a step too far?

New Instagram icon (left) and my idea for retaining more of the brand identity (right)

My thoughts on the new Instagram logo

There’s an adage coined by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a early 20th Century novelist that goes, “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

It’s something that as designers, we are always aware of. The whole design process, when at its most successful, works like this. We come up with ideas and concepts and narrow them down to the most effective design. We then take that design and iterate it, take away the unnecessary elements, the clutter, the noise. When we can’t take any more away, we have a clean design with clear communication at its core.

So I can’t help thinking that Instagram have taken a step too far. There’s certainly nothing left to take away but I think there is something to add. In the Medium post, Ian the head of design at Instagram says,

“The question then became, how far do we go? If you abstract too much, the glyph doesn’t feel tied to the history and soul of Instagram. If you make it too literal, it’s hard to justify changing from what we currently have.”

Whilst I don’t disagree with this statement at all, I feel that they have actually abstracted too much. If I was shown the new logo without knowing it was Instagram, would I recognise it? No, I don’t think I would. To me, it’s lost its Instrgram-ness.

So what could have been added? I think had they just kept the top part of the camera in the logo, it would have tied in much more closely with the existing brand. Ian says they wanted to “Honor Instagram’s identity while reflecting its growth” Have they honoured it though? When Instagram started, I really liked the old-school camera vibe of the icon and the filters. The top contrast of the camera, to me, is what makes Instagram unique. To me, the brand has that feel of retro photography and the new icon loses that. It becomes generic and more like a stock photography camera icon.

Ian also says,

“Brands, logos and products develop deep connections and associations with people, so you don’t just want to change them for the sake of novelty. But the Instagram icon and design was beginning to feel, well… not reflective of the community, and we thought we could make it better.”

Now I might be missing something here, but I’m not sure how this new icon reflects the community. It’s a bold move to take an icon so far away from the original in one move and I wonder if it’s less about being ‘for the community’ and more about internal boredom and wanting a refresh in-house. After all, Ian says “As a part of our process, we also asked people at the company to draw the Instagram icon from memory in 5 seconds. Almost all of them drew the rainbow, lens, and viewfinder.” But I wonder if they tested this outside of Instagram?

Looking through the comments on the Medium post, the new icon is not being met with overt enthusiasm. Now we know that often new brands are met with distain, just look at the new Google branding revealed last September. Personally I liked this redesign as it kept the feeling of the previous logo and tied in more with the rest of its branding. But some people disliked it. To choose one typical tweet: “Not a fan of the new #Google logo — understand why they’ve changed it, and it does look cleaner, but also very childish.”

We’ve seen instances of brands redesigning logos met with such distain that they’ve boomeranged back around. Look at the infamous Gap redesign and Waterstone’s.

Gap’s old (left) and much derided new logo (right)

Waterstone’s old (left) and short lived new logo (right). Both brands are using the originals again.

Both were so far off the mark that they were rather quickly reversed and swept under the rug.

I don’t think that we’re looking at getting the old-school colour camera back in the Instagram icon, and that’s ok. But I’d like to see a hint of it return. My mock-up at the top shows what I think they should have done to keep the essence of the brand. Maybe we’ll see changes, maybe we won’t but it’s a good lesson in how far to take a brand version to version.

Of course, everything I’ve written here is my opinion and there will be always be internal parts of the design process that we’re not privy to. But looking at is as an outsider, these are my thoughts.