Instagram | The Modern Dilemma of a Rebrand

By Simon Ensor
Social Media 20.05.2016

Last week, Instagram unveiled a controversial rebrand, complete with a revamped logo and shiny new user interface. The change marks the first logo alteration since the app launched five years ago, so this was a pretty significant step in the brand’s history. Instagram has ditched the skeuomorphic camera that was so iconic to its brand identity in favour of a flatter design. The new logo features a rainbow gradient background with the white outline of a camera and lense, characterised by curved lines and simplicity. As Instagram explains in their blog:

“Inspired by the previous app icon, the new one represents a simpler camera and the rainbow lives on in gradient form. […] Our updated look reflects how vibrant and diverse your storytelling has become.”

Instagram rebrand 2016

One can always expect loud reactions from a significant change to a hugely popular, much-loved brand. Look at the way people responded to the new Uber logo – reams of controversy and unprecedented backlash even led to their head of design stepping down. Let’s not forget the response to the Airbnb logo change; instead of effectively representing the brand, people simply saw… well, google it. Instagram would surely have anticipated the potential digital uproar that a re-brand would prompt. So did the Internet deliver? Absolutely. People lost their minds over the new logo and what followed was a stream of divided opinions and hilarious memes.


A Case In Favour of the New Logo

Admittedly it is difficult to find many positive reactions amongst the wave of negativity being spewed at Instagram for its logo change, but it’s not all bad. First and foremost, some form of change has been long overdue given that the logo has not been tweaked once since the launch, yet the app has evolved significantly. Innovation is a necessary risk in order to keep brands up-to-date with the fast-paced nature of digital media.

It is also worth pointing out that this design has been very carefully thought out and Instagram has readily provided its rationale to support their decision. A brand as big as this was never going to make a spontaneous change and hope for the best. Whether the long design process they have undertaken has achieved the desired result is perhaps questionable but we do nevertheless get the impression that Instagram have at least tried to listen to its users.

Instagram has already evolved from its original roots, with its most significant update being the inclusion of videos. If its Facebook counterpart is anything to go by, Instagram will likely have more plans up its sleeve, therefore the rebrand was inherently necessary in order to leave the door open to future modifications. The new logo is more ambiguous than its predecessor, allowing scope for further improvements going forwards.

A Case Against the New Logo

One of the primary issues with the new logo appears to be the drastic alteration from the original. It’s not just a little tweak here and there, the logo has completely transformed. There is a marked shift away from the vintage feel of the polaroid camera, iconography that has always been part of Instagram’s very foundations; a dangerous move and one that people seem to be unsure will pay off.

The new design is an obvious attempt at modernity and appears to be aimed at millennials who tend to favour a more simplistic, flatter style. However, it seems that Instagram aimed for minimalistic but ended up with basic. As mentioned above, the new logo is ambiguous to allow for future modifications and updates; however, it is also generic in its ambiguity. The previous icon was one of the most instantly recognisable brands. Now it is practically indistinguishable amongst the other apps on our phone screens and it feels as though it has lost its charm and originality.

This has been the main criticism of the rebrand from the people of the Internet. As the author of a review on Brand New remarked:

“As far as camera icons go, this is quite lovely and has the minimal amount of elements necessary to be recognised as a camera BUT not the minimal amount of elements necessary to be recognised as Instagram.”

Similarly, an article in Adweek was titled:

“Instagram’s New Logo is a Travesty. Can we Change it back? Please?”

The old Instagram logo may not have been particularly good but it was recognisable, endearing and had a kind of nostalgic charm about it. A few minor tweaks would have done the trick, rather than a total transformation. Although the app has evolved and updated over the years, the changes have not been fundamental enough to warrant a comprehensive rebrand. Instead, the new logo only seems to have weakened the emotional bond that people had formed with the brand and even the logo itself. Perhaps Instagram should have involved its users in the re-design journey. Afterall, an important characteristic of millennials is that they want to be listened to.

A Shiny New User Interface

A lot of attention has been given to the logo revamp but another important aspect of the rebrand is the new monochrome UI. The previous design provided unnecessary clutter and featured too much colour that interfered with the photos and videos. The new design is a simple but sophisticated black and white style, with the aim being to eliminate distractions and push the focus onto the photos and videos of the users.

Instagram UI in 2016

The change has been widely well received, with the updated UI offering a simpler but more aesthetically pleasing look. As a result, the photos and videos that feature in the Instagram feed are enhanced. This change has been successful because the aim is rooted in Instagram’s foundations – to provide an engaging photo sharing service. The new UI provides an enhanced user experience without compromising on the user’s relationship with the app.

View from the Yellowball Designers

We got our designers here at Yellowball to give us their opinions on the new logo. Here’s what they think:

Louisa Cochran

“Overall I like this rebrand but I am also in two minds about it. The original logo was dated and too complex so I feel it was long overdue for a refresh – a lot of the details were unnecessary and definitely needed stripping back to create a cleaner look. For example, the light reflection details on the lens were not needed in order for people to know it was a camera. The resulting logo is clean, simple and pleasing to the eye.

However, I wonder if the new design has strayed a bit too far from its original brandmark; I liked the retro feel it had, which also fitted well with the popular filters on Instagram. Now it feels too similar to the very on-trend ‘Apple’ icon designs with their use of gradient backgrounds and white shapes. In addition, whereas before the logo was clearly distinguishable, the new design could result in the icon blending in with other apps – although this will satisfy me when looking at my phone screen, it probably isn’t what a company should be aiming for after a rebrand!”

David Groombridge

“I feel an Instagram rebrand was due as the old logo was starting to feel outdated and too complex compared to rival/industry related brands. Although I like the flatter design, I personally feel like they’ve maybe produced a logo that is too simple and lost some of the defining features from their existing logo.

instagram icon redesign

The image above taken from their launch video, shows one of the concepts they were working with during the redesign stage. I think the general idea of this concept would have been a stronger move as it retains the defining features of the original brand but still refreshes it to a flat, modern design.”


Although the revamped UI has been widely praised, the negativity that the new logo has been met with has been somewhat overwhelming. Having said that, it is the nature of social media to amplify criticism; there have been various positive reactions but they tend to get buried under the myriad of abuse.

It is inevitable that people will freak out over a drastic change to one of their favourite brands. The likelihood is that in a few months the controversial reception of the new unveiling will be forgotten and there will be something else to freak out about – probably the imminent algorithm update (that’s a discussion for another time). No one is going to stop using the service because of the new logo. If anything, all the wild publicity the change has generated may even encourage new users – a brand that causes such an uproar over a logo change must be something special, right?

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