When I ask clients, colleagues, and friends why they much prefer using Instagram to some of their brand in-house photo sharing apps(in fashion), they respond that it's mostly the cleanliness and their perceived "elegance” about it that makes it more appealing.

It made me wonder if there's something about its UI: the use of symmetry, geometry, whitespace, or the way the margins are equal both vertical and horizontal etc, that makes Instagram's layout particularly successful in capturing the hearts of its many millions of users.

I'm wondering if anybody could explain it or break it down more eloquently.

I have attached these images.

That makes it so elegant?

enter image description here

  • 1
    I'm wondering also if it's the photo content. The grid is pretty classic & clean, but just browsing through my own feed, I feel like people really have an artistic bent to what their posting. I was just reading an article too that says "Instagram is in the midst of a long, slow transition from a fun-times BBQ snapshot app to a service that’s attracting users ranging from professionals who want a less formal outlet and publishers which want to showcase the work of their art and photography staff." gizmodo.com/…
    – binky
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 15:31
  • Can you provide examples of the apps they’re passing over in favor of Instagram? Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 21:37
  • Are they primarily browsing/sharing photos on a phone/tablet? Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 22:21
  • People say it's the layout, but odds are it's the content and ubiquity and overall UX.
    – DA01
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 5:14

4 Answers 4


Instagram is popular because of the content. The layout emphasizes the content and basically gets out of the way. There's nothing superfluous to the layout. Main focus is on the images, secondary on comments/likes and the rest is mostly tertiary navigation and functionality.

  • finally someone said it. to be honest i think it has many many flaws, there is absolutely nothing about it.
    – Stanley VM
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 14:14

Disclaimer: Although Instagram is indeed very popular and does an excellent job of adhering to solid design principles, it is important to point out Instagram isn't a one size fits all solution. It is more important to understand the problem you are solving including the context in which you are solving it in order to yield the best result for your users.

1. Context = Who + What + Where + When

Instagram understands the context in which it operates extremely well which is a large part of why it is so successful. People like documenting their life online. Taking pictures is a great way to do this since many people carry a camera phone everywhere they go. Instagram provides an easy way to record your life's photo journal using a smartphone.

The app went through many iterations until most of the major problems were solved...

  • Easily sharing your pictures with family and friends (or even just yourself)
  • Quickly applying filters to set the mood of your picture
  • Having pictures backed up in the cloud in case you break or lose your phone

The decision to crop everything as a square wasn't an accident. Squares are a solid shape which easily scale on any device. Most pictures on Instagram are captured using a smartphone and by cropping all images to the width of the device leaves room for simple editing options near the bottom of the screen easily accessible by a thumb on a single hand.

2. Less is More ... Responsive

Card layouts work well on pretty much any device and were around long before Instagram. The thing Instagram does really well is not clutter the interface with stats and text. They show only the most critical piece of data -- the picture itself.

Stats can be seen by hovering over or clicking on a picture but the initial page load is just enough square image cards to fill the screen along with a short bio of who the images belong to.

Notice how all the user uploaded content are squares? This provides contrast to the other stuff on the page like the big circle LOAD MORE button...


  • 1
    Love your points 1 and 2, but sorry, the golden ratio is always a red flag for me. It's bullshit: fastcodesign.com/3044877/the-golden-ratio-designs-biggest-myth (also note that the sample image from Instagram does not adhere to the golden ratio)
    – DA01
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 5:15
  • Yeah I just removed that point. There is a nice contrasting balance which comes from a 2:1 ratio but the exact golden ratio isn't important
    – DaveAlger
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 14:33

something about its UI: the use of symmetry, geometry, whitespace, or the way the margins are equal both vertical and horizontal etc

Simply put, it's well designed!

Visual design that feels "right" isn't something everyone intuitively understands. Like art, it takes time to develop good taste and years to learn to do well. It might not even be teachable at all.

Here's a start though:

  • You're right, symmetry and white space are usually easy on the eyes.
  • The margins in Instagram's design are wide enough to see the images as individual frames, which keeps colors from "mushing" together...
  • ...yet narrow enough to show many pictures at once, which lets your eye explore freely as you scroll.
  • Most importantly, the design brings your focus to the pictures themselves, which are often beautiful, and it doesn't let other things distract your attention away from them.

Learn more about what makes a good design here: https://www.vitsoe.com/us/about/good-design


I do not think that IG popularity has much to do with UI but more of UX. It gives a user instant gratification of self worth and validation. For more about success of IG please read this book: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22668729-hookedenter image description here

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