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A Brief History of Instagram's UI Evolution Over the Years

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Maaz E Ansari
A Brief History of Instagram's UI Evolution Over the Years

Instagram began as a simple photo-sharing app, but it has come a long way since then. Over the years, Instagram has acquired several new features that have drastically changed the user interface and user experience of the app, with some design updates being better received than others. 


Here's a brief history of the most important UI changes Instagram has made over the years.


The First Version of Instagram


In October 2010, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger released a photo-sharing app called Instagram. Originally launched on iOS only, it was quickly extended to Android and Windows Phone. The original version of the app featured filters that allowed users to adjust the brightness, contrast, warmth and other elements of a photo before uploading it to their account. 


The app also allows users to post photos from their phone gallery or directly from within the app itself. Uploading an image allows a user to share it with friends or even publicly for anyone to see. Users can like an image or comment on it if they wish – either anonymously or with a personal account.


The Second Version of Instagram


In 2012, Instagram launched a new version of the app. The new design was cleaner and simpler than the first version with more white space, larger pictures, and a wider feed. 


One interesting element was that photos would now be displayed in chronological order with no option to change it. In 2013, an Android version finally came out and over time this app would take over as more popular than its iOS counterpart for Android users. In 2015, Instagram introduced Stories, which is like a cross between Snapchat and Facebook Live. 


You can create stories from any camera mode or from your phone’s front-facing camera. Like on Snapchat you can add drawings or text to your story before sending it to your followers. 


If you share multiple snaps in succession they will form one story thread and you will have the option of adding an end screen at the end of your story thread which lets viewers know what they missed if they didn’t catch up right away. 


Later that year, Instagram introduced another new feature called Live Video which lets people broadcast live videos on their feed or their friends’ feeds. These videos last up to 60 minutes each.


The Third Version of Instagram


The app changed its design in 2013, with the introduction of a new slider to switch between your feed and your story. The change was celebrated by many users at the time, including celebrities like Chrissy Teigen who tweeted I love this new @instagram update!. 


The newest version also introduced ‘Stories’ in chronological order as opposed to being posted when you upload them. This change was met with mixed reviews from users but many saw it as a sign that Instagram was shifting towards being more like Snapchat, which is one of their biggest competitors. 


Other features added around this time included profile pictures in the top-left corner instead of just an icon and small sections on the left-hand side for viewing other profiles without having to go back to your own page. In 2017, Instagram switched back to vertical scrolling on the feed, changing it so that posts would show up based on how long ago they were uploaded rather than the oldest first.


 More recently in 2018, Instagram unveiled a major redesign that moved all of the posts into square frames and rearranged different content types throughout the user interface. Users are encouraged to watch videos from channels they subscribe to and post their own stories on a separate tab called 'Explore.' In addition to these changes, there has been an increased emphasis put on influencer marketing through Stories (which include new revenue-sharing opportunities) and Explore pages where brands can advertise products.


The Fourth Version of Instagram (aka Stories)


In a bid to compete with Snapchat and Whatsapp, Instagram released its first major feature update in over four years. The new format is called ‘Stories’ and is a Snapchat-style feed of photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. 


The feature was first tested in September 2016 on an invite-only basis before being made available to everyone around the world in December 2016. It is currently only available for iOS but it will soon be rolled out for Android users too. 


With more than 500 million people using Stories every day (more than double what they had at the end of 2017), this latest addition to Instagram could very well be one of their most popular updates yet. After much deliberation, I decided to give Stories a go myself. I started with my usual profile pic then went on to take a selfie from bed and upload it with the caption I'm so sleepy.


 I then uploaded another photo - this time of me lying down under the blankets - followed by one showing my mum taking my dog outside and another of me petting her. Though I can't deny feeling some initial apprehension about uploading so many personal moments to social media, something about Stories felt different. I found myself wanting to continue scrolling through each post without hesitation or self-censorship. 


The truth is: there are no rules when posting stories which make them feel even more genuine - which is probably why they've become such a success story for Facebook, who owns Instagram!


Where Will This Evolution Go Next?


The only way to know what’s next is by looking at what has come before. That’s why we’ve put together a brief history of Instagram’s UI evolution so far. But where will this evolution go next? 


Will it stay focused on simple and clean design, or will it stray into something new? The answer may depend on how much users like the changes that have already been made, but one thing is for certain: these tweaks are only going to continue as more and more features are added. 


So while we wait to see what the future brings, here’s a look back at all the ways Instagram has changed over time. First, let’s start with the original release in October 2010. 


In those days, you could choose between black-and-white or color photos and your feed was chronological - no algorithm needed! You also had access to three filters from within the app - Earlybird (soft pastel tones), Hefe (brown tones), and Toaster (yellowish colors). Today, there are about 40 different filters available for use with an extra 70 million filters if you want to download them through a third party app. 


But first things first: did you notice that from 2010 until now there were no lines separating each post in your feed?


Final thoughts


Instagram UI UX Design Studio is an interactive timeline that documents how Instagram’s design has evolved over the years. It also provides a fun way to explore and compare different iterations by highlighting key changes in color, text, and icons. 


The visual interface makes it easy to see the evolution of their branding. For example, if you look at the bottom row, you can see how they removed their logo from every button because they wanted it to be intuitive (similar to Snapchat). 


And in 2017, they simplified things even more with sleek black-and-white backgrounds, uncluttered layouts, and a white font for clarity. These days, photos are square, not rectangular like in 2009 when Instagram first launched. And there are new features too like Boomerang and Layout. 


When Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, it was an instant success but the changes to its design were not always well received initially; some felt lost or confused about where to find the app's iconic pencil icon which was no longer displayed on every page of the app.



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Maaz E Ansari
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