After 2 Years, Has Everyone Finally Chilled Out About the Instagram Logo?

The contentious update that sent the internet into a frenzy

GIF of new multicolored Instagram logo
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Headshot of Robert Klara

Five years ago, Australia-based cook Ann Reardon posted a new how-to video to her YouTube channel on how to bake a chocolate mousse cake. But this was no ordinary cake. Its slices were flawless renderings of the Instagram logo, right down to the color bands (which Reardon created with strawberry, lime and mango Jell-O).

Then, last summer, Reardon added another Instagram cake to her channel. After all, the time had come. “I made this other chocolate dessert with the old logo a long time ago now,” she explained. “[But] so, so many of you requested the new logo.”

Four-paned image showing sketches of Instagram logo and filters.
Instagram’s first two logos (bottom) were inspired by vintage Polaroid and Bell & Howell cameras, and were the brainchild of CEO Kevin System (center, left, with co-founder Mike Krieger, right). Instagram started out with only four employees (top right) and was originally just a funky little app with filters that gave photos an antique look. But after Facebook bought the app in 2012, it grew exponentially. A year later, its staff had grown to 26 (bottom left) and its users to 100 million.
Systrom and Krieger: WireImage for The Webby Awards; All others: Courtesy of Instagram

To whatever extent the world of cake baking mirrors the world at large, Reardon’s videos appear to confirm at least two branding truths: Logos change and, while change can be hard, eventually everyone gets used to it.

That’s not to minimize the earthquake that happened on May 11, 2016, when Instagram scuttled its beloved instant camera icon for an abstract, prismatic replacement. Critics slammed it as ugly, unimaginative and unnecessary. Some were meaner still—like the guy who tweeted that the new logo “looks like Jon Ive threw up and Facebook scooped it out of the toilet bowl.” The New York Times called the response “the Great Instagram Logo Freakout of 2016” and, just for the record, this magazine called the new logo a “travesty.”

Instagram’s old logo had actually been its second. The original, created by CEO Kevin Systrom, was inspired by a Polaroid camera of the late 1970s. Brought in to rework it, designer Cole Rise created another icon (this one reportedly influenced by an old Bell & Howell box camera) that debuted in 2010. Thematically speaking, the design made a lot of sense: In the early days, Instagram’s 1 million users loved the app for its funky filters that gave their photos an old-fashioned look.

Three-paned image showing details of new Instagram logo with white camera outline on orange and purple.
The finder: In a largely abstract rendering, this dot—signifying the viewfinder lens of an old box camera—is critical to identifying the icon as a camera. The silhouette: Aside from the rounded corners harmonizing with the spheres within, this border is a direct carryover of the older logo’s shape. The gradient: Adapted from the vertical rainbow strip on the former logo, this diffraction is meant to symbolize Instagram’s wide and diverse range of users.

But starting with its acquisition by Facebook in 2012 (price: $1 billion), the platform changed quickly, adding video sharing and morphing into a social-media monolith whose user base exploded to 400 million by 2016. Deciding that a cute little retro camera just didn’t do it anymore, corporate brought in designer Robert Padbury, who developed a simplified camera—in design parlance, a “scalable glyph”—that took the rainbow bands from the old logo and blew them out into a full color background gradient. “Our updated look,” corporate declared, “reflects how vibrant and diverse your storytelling has become.”

Granted, a lot of people didn’t buy into that reasoning, but according to Matthew Quint, director of Columbia Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership, they didn’t have a lasting effect on the brand’s perception. According to Quint, the “classic case” of a logo update causing a social-media backlash tends to go like this: half of the aggrieved “have a deep affiliation with the brand. The other half are designers, and they’re critical like an artist is critical of others’ art.” On the whole, however, “the public couldn’t care less.”

Cakes decorated with Instagram's old and new logos
How to Cook That, the website and YouTube channel run by Australian cook Ann Reardon, hosts no shortage of impressive treats. But few can match the culinary prowess and cultural currency of her Instagram cakes. After figuring out how to bake Instagram’s original logo in 2013, Reardon added the new logo last year.

Which doesn’t exactly mean that everybody’s learned to love the new logo, though it does appear that most everyone’s grown used to it. Indeed, if the hashtag #MyInstagramLogo is any proof, no shortage of the artistically inclined have embraced the new icon by posting their own interpretations of it. Among them is commercial-artist agency Snyder New York, which recently posted a time-lapse video of artist Naíma Almeida rendering the logo in pieces of felt. Snyder rep Annabeth Faucher believes the new logo is much cleaner and more graphic than the old one. “The hubbub is just that people don’t like change,” she said. “But now that a couple of years have passed, looking back at that bulky camera, I can’t imagine people looking at that and thinking it represents Instagram.”

This story first appeared in the Feb. 26, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.
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