First Click: I want my Instagram in black and white

April 28th, 2016

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I’m not a big Instagram user. I’ll post the obligatory vacation photo or the occasional funny-thing-I-saw, but for the most part, it's what I scroll through when I’m bored on the metro or waiting for a dinner date to return from the bathroom. My followers include a handful of friends; the rest are a mix of photographers, artists, and rich strangers in beautiful locations. It’s probably the least social of my social networks — which is also what I love about it.

As Facebook and Twitter continue to tweak their news feeds and timelines, trying to squeeze more algorithmically-tuned content into my life, Instagram still feels like a Zen garden — free of distraction, upheaval, and in my case, social interaction. Part of that is due to its design stasis. There have been slight changes to the app's interface over the years, and you could argue that it should have evolved more than it has (the camera icon feels very stale). But Instagram’s basic DNA — photos, videos, and not much else — has remained the same, and I always respected that. It knows what it is, and I never really wanted it to stray from that.

Like a masterfully executed plastic surgery procedure

I felt a little different this week, after The Verge’s Casey Newton reported that Instagram is testing out a new black-and-white design, with thinner navigation icons and not a splotch of its trademark blue-and-grey coloring. It’s not clear whether this redesign will ever be implemented on a broad scale, but I really hope it is. It makes the app look cleaner and sleeker, without rendering it totally unrecognizable — like a masterfully executed plastic surgery procedure.

But the thing I like most about the redesign is how it cedes the stage to the images. When I first saw the screenshots, I began thinking about how the black-and-white backdrop would frame the work of my favorite Instagram users — photojournalists like Ruddy Roye and David Guttenfelder, or more conceptual artists like Jud Muir and Kalen Hollomon. There are a lot of selfies and memes in my feed, but there’s a lot of art in there, too. This redesign would give it the kind of muted, gallery-like framing it deserves. (The memes would probably have extra gravitas, as well.)

More substantive change is likely inevitable for Instagram, and future overhauls may dramatically alter the experience of using it. But until then, I’d love to see the app move toward this kind of minimalism, even if it’s just cosmetic. That’s all Instagram ever was to me anyway.


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