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How the Instagram navigation became convoluted

With the introduction of significant layout changes – the tabs Reel and Shop – the Instagram navigation became convoluted. Let’s briefly explore how.

The reason

Announcing the changes, Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, pointed out how the pandemic changed the way people use the app. Short and entertaining videos became prominent, and people started buying more online.

Young people and creators are at the centre of Instagram’s focus, which is the reason behind the positioning of the two new tabs in the bottom navigation.

The science

For a person holding a phone with one hand, the bottom area is easier to reach with the thumb. Anything at the top, considering the increasing sizes of modern phones, is impossible to touch without readjusting the phone.

Thumb-zone mapping explained by Samantha Ingram
New thumb-zone mapping adjusted to larger screen sizes by Arturas Leonovas

The convoluted navigation

Activity

For the Reel and Shop tabs to be quick and easy to access, New Post and Activity had to be moved to the top of the screen. New Post is on both the home page and profile page, while Activity is only accessible from the home page.

Instagram home page with the new layout

Being able to access Activity exclusively from one page means more taps and more chances of getting lost or distracted before reaching it. One could argue that the in-app notifications won’t make you miss a comment or like, but people might wish to easily go back and reply at a later moment.

As mentioned earlier, the Create New feature is now at the top. What I find confusing is how the nature of the feature changes based on its position within the app.

Home

From the home screen, people can create four types of content – Post being the default – by choosing from a sliding menu at the bottom of the page, which I initially didn’t notice: Post, Story, Reel, Live.

Posting from the home screen and the four types of content

Profile

From the profile, people can create six types of content: Feed Post, Story, Highlight, IGTV Video, Reel, Guide.

One possible explanation

Instagram may be testing which one of the similar-but-different features performs best. The reason I say this is that the layouts are too different to think they both fit the app. Moreover, it’s good UX practise to test between two solutions.

If this is the case, we’ll find out soon.

In the meantime, if you updated the app and felt lost, know that it’s not you. At the moment, the navigation is genuinely convoluted.


Conclusions

The products we design or use can get complicated over time, mainly when they become established. It happens when users ask for more features or when they change the way they use it.
See Design, Digested #12 – Struggling with growth.

Sometimes it happens when the business model changes: if the goal is to keep people engaged – and watching reels and looking for things to buy do it – then these actions need to take priority on the screen.


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