Instagram and The Iconic Art of Nostalgia



So does the sight of this bring a tear to your eye and a lump to your throat? Remembering the happy days and endless hours you shared together? If so your not alone it would seem;

When Instagram released its new logo, and updated app last month, I doubt they expected the strength of the largely unfavourable reaction from the global Instagram community.

Accompanied by a snazzy new video showing the evolution of the cute and familiar box camera to the icon equivalent of Josephs technicolour dreamcoat. Here’s what Instagram said:

“The Instagram community has evolved over the past five years from a place to share filtered photos to so much more – a global community of interests sharing more than 80 million photos and videos every day. “Our updated look reflects how vibrant and diverse your storytelling has become.”

The reaction of the 100 million regular Instagram users was loud and clear and told a rather different story. The internet went into meltdown as they voiced their displeasure. Users called out the design as “looking like something designed by a Samsung Intern”, or ” like something I created in Word Art when I was 10″

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Within hours hashtags #changeitback and #instagramno along with some other rather more visceral phrases were trending.

Memes soon appeared which mocked both the design and its process. Some of them extremely creative.  A  video showing a boy playing with the Gradient Settings in Photoshop on a dated Mac then turns to camera with a cheesy ‘Thumbs Up’ sign, quickly went viral, as did a reworking of Edward Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’ which I think takes the ultimate prize for cleverly summing up the feelings of the majority. ie. That the new Logo was ‘Quelle Horror’!


But hold that thought and lets back up a minute.

This isn’t the first time a Branding update has fallen foul of public opinion. Corporate rebranding is a notoriously tricky exercise. If you don’t believe me just ask Mega Brand Coke, who have tried several times over the course of their long history to ‘modernize’ and update a much loved ‘classic’ design, and found out the hard way that there is some truth in the old adage ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it!”.


Like the Instagram logo the public reaction to a repackaged soft drink is somewhat predictable. No matter what they may say, people by and large are more comfortable with the familiar, and resistant to anything which takes them out of their personal comfort zone. And the greater the degree of familiarity, the more comfortable the comfort.



A key component of this equation is of course Nostalgia. In the case of Coke  the ‘Classic’ logo and bottle was the one many of us grew up with. To crack open and swig down a Coke from that familiar curved Glass bottle is for me to be instantly transported back to carefree childhood summer days in an altogether more innocent age where “We’d like to Teach The World to Sing became “We’d like to Buy the World a Coke” without even a hint of irony, The only thing I had to worry about was getting back the return deposit on the bottle. (By the way whatever happened to Deposit on Return? A green idea that was well ahead of its time? but I digress..)

What’s interesting here isn’t just the force of the reaction Instagrammers have displayed to the update, but that one of the key reasons beneath the protests would seem to be Nostalgia. Is that really possible? Nostalgia for Coke (or Pepsi if you pref is one thing), but nostalgia for an online photosharing app barely out of nappies? How can this be?

Perhaps we need to re-evaluate our understanding of what we mean by nostalgia which the dictionary defines as:



  1. a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.

“I was overcome with acute nostalgia for my days at university”

synonyms:       wistfulness, longing/yearning/pining for the past, regret, regretfulness, reminiscence,remembrance, recollection, homesickness, sentimentality


Somewhat ironically these are all elements at play in the conception of the original Instagram logo..But before we get too sentimental and dewy eyed,  wrap your mind around this little-known fact: The old Instagram logo — the square instant camera with the tiny rainbow we’re all familiar with (and are now wistfully remembering),  isn’t even actually the original.

Before Instagram had the iconic logo the app actually brandished a design that looked a lot like a real camera, apparently designed by CEO Kevin Systrom himself.

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When Instagram was about to launch in October 2010, Apple wanted to put the app in the store’s “featured” section. But there was a problem: The original logo — basically a stylized rendering of a real Polaroid OneStep instant camera — was using a trademarked design. So it had to go. Systrom enlisted help from designer and photographer Cole Rise. one of the app’s early adopter users. Rise had recently created a camera-like icon for his own picture sharing app called Uoooo

This icon was itself a nostalgia inspired piece of design based on a Bell & Howell  8mm cine camera from the ’50s..

Belln Howell

The story goes that Systrom wanted to buy this logo but Rise didn’t want to sell, and instead agreed to rework the design , coming up with the box camera Instagram logo in about 45 mins. And then continuing to iterate over the next few months, adding details like adding an overhead lighting effect, and detailing the room reflected in the camera lens ( if you look closely you can see a window).  The final logo version shipped with Instagram 2.0 in 2011 and the rest as they say is history..


All 4 years of it.

Which brings us back to the new icon, and perhaps helps explain why the initial reaction to it has been so unfavourable.

Whilst the new logo retains recognisable elements of the old one, notably the box camera shape in outline, along with circular lens, it strips these elements down to a bare bones minimalist level, whilst at the same time subverting the rainbow striped bars into a rather cliched gradient fill, and one that fails to include all the colours of the rainbow at that. The result feel somewhat akin to viewing the corpse of an icon that died of starvation, lying in its white casket after having been badly dressed by the undertaker.

The new logo makes no concessions or nods to the physical world of light, photography and real, albeit antique cameras, and so a direct connection is lost..



Now there are very good arguments for screen based User Interface design that is clean, simple, functional, and doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. Chief product designer at Apple Jonathan Ive ,the man behind the design of the iPhone, has rallied against Apples own OS interface design team for their Skeuomorphism, -that is the tendency to deliberately make something new look like something old and familiar.


But the Instagram update has adopted a very anti-skeumorphic approach not only in the design of revamped logo, but also in streamlining the look of the interface and the associated filter operations that make the app what it is. In Instagram’s words; we refreshed the user interface with a simpler, more consistent design that helps people’s photos and videos shine.

And so we have a UI that is stripped of almost all of its colour, black replaces blue  and Meanwhile, the notification icons are red and no longer orange. The new black and white design is supposed to put your photos and videos front and centre with fewer distracting elements around it, and brings the app in line with other modern interfaces that emphasize lots of white space and minimalism.


Which is all very well, but the criticism being levelled by users here is that there’s nothing distinct about it anymore. It’s become too minimal/ too generic and even too bright.

One designer moans;  “ I could gripe about how snow-bright the editing sliders are — especially when you’re editing a post in a bar or dimly-lit restaurant and don’t want the screen illuminating your entire face so intensely.”

So you can just how sensitive some people are on these matters!

Instagram wants its users photos and videos to shine and some of then cry that they shining too brightly! And so they were probably always on a hiding to nothing no matter whether their logo morphed Skeumorphically or just plain skewed!

In a neat twist which brings things full circle, when given the opportunity to design a real camera in the form a special one-off for Leica, Ive came up with something distinctly “retro’- eg. does this Leica Red M remind you of anything?


And then of course there was the Polaroid Socialmatic which actually took the logo and turned it into a real (if not very good) Polaroid camera.


But perhaps we shouldn’t judge too harshly. The ‘Red’ Leica M sold for a handsome $1.8million when it was auctioned  for Charity at Sothebys.

Nostalgia it would seem is Big Money. And Instagram is for all its warm social media we are a ‘community’ fuzziness is BIG business

SO let’s see. They say a change is as good as a rest. But my money says that we haven’t yet seen the back of the old Instagram logo fully. Except here.