Instagram’s iOS 7 Update: They Blew It

Instagram released their iOS 7 update today. I’m sorry to report that it is not good.

The previous Instagram interface embodied the ideal iOS app design. It had oodles of personality while still retaining a mass-market appeal. There was a consistent set of styles applied to every screen, in a palette that was restrained, yet identifiably Instagram.

Today’s update is a mess. It’s awash with stylistic contradictions, as if their designers were caught between a desire to kowtow to Apple’s new guidelines and their own internally-cultivated sense of taste.

The app icon is still the realistically-detailed little camera we’ve all grown accustomed to, suggesting that the rest of the app hasn’t changed, when in fact the opposite is true.

The navigation bar has been reduced to a flat Instagram blue, dropping all of the tiny details from the previous version. Strangely, the navigation bar is only blue on the main timeline. All the other screens use a system-default, blurred-white navigation bar. Swiping back from a detail screen into the main timeline creates some extreme disharmony as the status bar disappears on one half of the display.

Square avatars have been replaced with circular ones, which have long since lapsed from cool to trendy to tacky. John Gruber makes a great observation about them:

And for Instagram in particular, it breaks a certain elegance — your avatar was the same thing as a post, a square image.

Making matters worse, the status bar animates in a harsh manner from white-on-blue to black-on-white when you scroll down into your timeline. To be fair, this is as much Apple’s fault as Instagram’s for creating the problem in the first place. Instagram’s poor solution is a great example of why apps shouldn’t have to accomodate an overlapping status bar. The iOS 6 plain black status bar is still the best solution for most cases.

The camera interface is almost unchanged from the iOS 6 version, except for the removal of the subtle noise that provided texture for the large grey toolbar areas. Buttons have borders, shadows, and soft bevels (and they look great). The contrast between the stylized camera screens and the flat default look of the rest of the app is the most troublesome contradiction. As my friend Preshit Deorukhakar said on

Did Instagram designers forget there’s a Camera View in the app when designing the iOS 7 update?

Tim Van Damme, the primary designer of the iOS 6 interface, left Instagram this summer for Dropbox. I have no idea how much he was involved in the iOS 7 redesign. As an outside observer, the portions of Van Damme’s work still visible in the app look like splotches of blue-grey on a half-finished whitewashed wall. The spirit and unity of his work is gone. Those picking up where he left off need to either fully commit to the new flat style, or else strike out on a bolder tack. Half-assing a push into two contradictory directions at once is a sure way of getting lost in the weeds.

|  25 Sep 2013