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CRAIG BERRY, SR. ART DIRECTOR

On May 11 of this year, a new visual identity was launched for the immensely popular photo-sharing
app, Instagram. 

The new identity aimed to modernize and simplify the iconic Instagram “camera” icon and bring it more in line with current design trends. However, by May 12, the Instagram community had spoken. They hated it.

But why was there such a vitriolic reaction to a simple app-icon change? The answer is pretty simple: people build emotional relationships with the brands they love.

Brand visual identities rely on three things: form, color and feel. Form is the most obvious and sometimes the easiest to recognize. This is what the majority of people will identify as the “logo” or “mark” of the brand–the Nike swoosh or McDonald’s golden arches being perhaps the most iconic. Color is the next most important–nearly as important as form. Brands like Home Depot and Coke rely very heavily on their brand colors and they are ingrained in the minds of anyone who engages those brands. Lastly, the feel of a brand is a summation of color, form, typefaces, etc… It’s best explained as the attitude that you perceive the brand to have when viewing the visual identity.

It’s this attitude that we as consumers identify with. That feeling we get when engaging with certain brands is the same feeling we get when we return to places we’ve visited before or when we eat foods that we love. That fond familiarity is a deeply rooted emotional tool that almost all forms of intelligent life posses. The ability to identify things that comfort or welcome us is a primal survival tactic that has helped our species to proliferate as it has. It’s no surprise then, that suddenly removing and replacing the brand characteristics we identify with will cause a negative reaction. 

The Instagram brand had a pretty firm hold on all three of those brand identifiers with its previous mark. The skeuomorphic camera icon was instantly recognizable, the rainbow of colors on the front a symbol of the diversity of their user base and the brand had a laid back, fun and “summery” feel from the script typeface and muted tones.

A comparison of the old Instagram logo vs. the new mark. You can see the apparent lack of visual DNA that was able to make the transition. 

Image courtesy of AdWeek. 

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Unfortunately, such a small portion of the brand DNA made the transition to the new mark that it felt as if the brand we had grown to love had been replaced with a total stranger. Someone who wasn’t privy to the press releases or blog rants may have never connected the new mark to Instagram at all. It could be said that this new mark forgoes sound brand logic to pursue design trends rather than keeping a careful eye on evolving a mark rather than replacing it. By abandoning the previous brand DNA, Instagram essentially severed the emotional connection that we feel the moment we view a familiar face. The person has the same name and acts the same way, but the face has changed. 

If you’re considering an evolution or complete re-make of your brand’s visual identity, take time to consider Instagram’s example of a wholesale remake and weigh the options carefully. Does your current brand have strong equity? What’s the most identifiable element of your brand? What’s the impetus behind the urge to rebrand? Giving these questions due diligence will prove to be an invaluable step in the right direction for the future of your brand.