Any major social media interface update is usually met with resistance – the cries of "bring back the old Facebook" are still echoing. But Instagram's first major redesign for 10 years is more than just a UI design overhaul – it shows the world Instagram's renewed priorities. And it's a super-bold (and dare we say, risky) step for the platform.
Instagram has put two elements front and centre. These are 'Reels', the short video creator so far largely overlooked by Instagram's users (most of the Reels content has the familiar TikTok stamp affixed to it), and shopping. For a platform that started life as a place for the sharing of beautiful images (created with the best photo apps), things sure have changed.
In order to push these two features, Instagram began testing different layouts in September so you may have a different version of the interface right now. But in the new version (which began rolling out yesterday), Instagram has relegated the (until now) integral 'compose' button to the top right of the screen. We assume the thinking behind this is 'out of sight, out of mind', as the Reels button takes centre-stage in the bottom centre of the menu bar.
We have to say, this feels a little desperate. Given the Reels function was created purely in response to the overwhelming success (and competition) of the TikTok model, and it has't been a success so far on Instagram, we're not sure forcing user's hands is the right tactic. It may have been more work to find the Reels function before, but we're sure people would have bothered if they actually wanted to use it.
Then there's the new 'Shop' button, which allows users to search for brands and buy products through the app. So far, monetised content and shopping on Instagram has crept in and grown somewhat organically – in many ways, it feels peer-to-peer. Though it forms a large part of the daily use of Instagram, it comes across as a user-generated growth that will have success as long as content creators have willing audiences.
With the shop function, Instagram is formally setting itself up as a third-party marketplace. Though the success of the influencer model, and targeted ads on Instagram shows there is an appetite for buying through the app, positioning itself as a marketplace in such an overt way is a bold step.
It could be a positive step for creatives wanting to showcase their work and sell through the app, but only if Instagram keeps its user base with it throughout the changes.
And so far, it's safe to say that people aren't impressed:
This new IG update 🙄 Every day Instagram literally brainstorms more ways to make it LESS satisfying for the every day user.November 12, 2020
The shopping button is an extra little kick in the teeth for creators 👌November 13, 2020
I’m fine with reels, but the shop tab should NEVER be a thingNovember 12, 2020
"If we're going to make a change to Instagram navigation, it's a pretty big deal," Vishal Shah, VP of Instagram product, told CNN Business. "We don't expect every single Instagram user on day one to feel like these tabs are valuable to them ... but we do believe they can be."
And with the positioning of those tabs, Instagram clearly wants to make them the focus, meaning users who don't find them valuable are likely to find less value in the platform itself as content changes in response.
We get that Instagram needed to find a new direction (mostly due to the TikTok generation), and await more users' response with interest. But we do have to say, we kinda miss the days we just went on there to look at pretty pictures.