Instagram just turned 10 years old last month—on October 6th to be more precise. And to celebrate their anniversary, the social media giant did something quite unexpected.
We all remember the backlash Instagram faced back in 2016 when they radically changed their icon from the beloved polaroid camera to a more modern and minimalistic pictogram with a colorful gradient as a background. "The Instagram logo and design was beginning to feel, well… not reflective of the community, and frankly we thought we could make it better,” Said Ian Spalter, Instagram's head of design, when announcing the new look on a blog post he published on Medium.
Well, the old logo is back! Sort of… Hidden in the settings page is an Easter egg, an option that allows you to choose from many different icons... including the old one that everybody loved. Why is this special you might ask? This is what I’ll try to answer in this article.
1. How Does Nostalgia Work?
Without getting into the details too much, nostalgia is a sense of strong sentimentality for the past. It is triggered when one encounters something from the past. Because our brains tie memories to our senses, nostalgic feeling can usually arise after tasting your childhood’s candy of choice, or listening to that song you played on repeat for all of your high school years.
The same happens—to a lesser degree—with colors. If your room as a child was painted blue, there’s a high chance that that color will give you a sense of security and belonging even if it doesn’t bring specific memories with it.
When Instagram gave people the possibility of reverting back to the old icon, they basically achieved the same nostalgic sensation. Just by looking at that icon on your phone’s home scree, you are taken back to when you first downloaded the app.
2. Meaningful V.S Practical Customer Experiences
At this point, apps that allow users to change their icons to match the look that they want are not a rarity—even on IOS. Telegram for example is a messaging app that lets you customize the look and color of the app on your phone's home screen, but that's pretty much where the experience stops.
That’s what I would call “practical” and “non-meaningful”. It gives people the ability to do something easily to enhance their experience, in this case, the freedom to customize the look of the icon to their liking goes one step beyond what you usually get with other apps, but it has no meaning to the customer.
Instagram by contrast is effectively using nostalgia to reinforce the positive emotions their users had towards the old icon. And in addition to that, the timing they chose was perfect. There’s no better opportunity to strengthen a company’s brand than it’s anniversary.
3. Good Rebrands Don’t Go Unnoticed
A company’s history is often broken down into different eras which can be characterized by product launches, events, or changes to the brand’s look and feel. You see this with most startups when they get their first big investment and finally able to focus more on growing their brands. Actually, you can pretty much tell where that point is for every big tech startup by just looking at the evolution of their logos.
A successful rebrand has to mark the change that a company went through—or wants to undertake. Similar to what Instagram’s lead of design said when they went through their rebrand, most companies feel the need to change their appearance as they grow. As time goes by, you as a founder will understand your audience better and as a result your offering will improve. A great way for people to pay attention to that change is… surprise, surprise… a design change or in some cases a full rebrand.
If you keep the same look over a long period of time, all the memories that people will develop with your brand will blend together. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you are a bank that want’s to show their stability, but for a consumer-facing startup, change—when necessary—is an indicator for growth.
At the end of the day, what we can all learn from moves like the one Instagram just pulled-off, is that the little things count. Your brand as a startup will go be criticized by many as you aim to achieve exponential growth. But remember that if you do it right, you will always have fans that relate to your vision and love what you do. Those people are the ones that matter the most, they are the ones that would be exited to see your old app icon on their phones, and the ones that will say good things about your brand no matter what.