Instagram the iPhone app that released into the market place about a year ago, is now up to about 15 million users worldwide, and it seems to be a run away success story that has no limits to where it might end up. They now have large brands such as GE,Starbucks, as well as, fashion brands like Gucci and Burberry trying to get in on the action using their platform to get access to the huge social network around a simple photo editing and sharing application. So what might be some of the factors that lead Instagram to their huge success?

Firstly let’s look a quick look at the application as a user experience. The idea was the collaboration of Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. They had been slightly less successful in an early product called Burbn, a location sharing service, but this early failure I have no doubt helped in building Instagram right.

The application uses the pictures you take with you iPhone and then allows you to apply some nice professional looking filters, that make the images look very “instamatic” and retro in appearance. Then you can share the pictures across multiple social networks all at once. The results are pleasing to look at and have a nice aesthetic and the sharing aspect is very easy and quick to use. This I think is the first successful aspect to the application design simplicity. There is nothing complex in what the app does or how it behaves. Everything is simple and it does what it does very well, allowing you to take pictures, edit them then share. The application is also free to download and this makes recommending the application to a friend easy when it doesn’t cost anything to try. Another successful way to allow easy adoption, and it makes it very able to become viral.

So how about the picture results, well of course the hi-res camera in the iPhone already can take pretty good pictures but the filters that Instagram allows you to apply are very well produced and make the images have a retrospective look and feel. This of course is another huge value add to the application, as two important things have occurred. One is that the pictures you take can look more stylistic and artistic with a sense of a 1960’s surfer magazine, but more importantly there is a trend occurring right now across the design community for more retro hazy looking work in photography and graphics. American Eagle, Katy Perry, Abercrombie & Fitch and many other companies and trend setters are using the retro aesthetic in their branding. This makes the application fit right inline with current trend for that style, as it helps make those style pictures with your own images and share them. This again increases the likelyhood of the app becoming a viral and sticky idea. It stands out from other applications that do photo editing and makes it slightly unique and fitting in with a current trend in photography for fashion.

Most importantly there is of course the social sharing aspect to the application and how to help that spreading of the message and application among friends. Here again the application makes this super easy and you can share to multiple social outlets at the same time. Also you have the ability to rate, favorite and comment on peoples pictures with ease. Supporting the idea of social sharing and helping get the app noticed by others.

So what kinds of users might be most interested in this app, well of course these are right now mostly iPhone users so they are already mostly going to be pretty social, probably young and looking for new ways to express themselves and their lives to each other. They are already sharing photos but want to tell their stories in an unexpected way. Instagram can help them show how trendy they are but I think more importantly Instagram helps these users tell stories and make them look hazy and artisitic that adds to that narrative of being creative and fun, like “it used to be”.

When we think of the aesthetic of retro imagery we think back to a time of naivete and exploration. I at least am taken back to the images of californian surfers with their hand made boards and a time when people were less stressed by the things we are today and less connected. Things were less than perfect but people seemed happier. The 1960’s onwards was expressed visually by the camera this app imitates, the instamatic camera with the instant polariod effect, when people cared less about perfection and quite simply felt more content with the fact the moment had even been captured, they were more into the event than the image captured. That is at least one of my interpretations of this style. Of course each person has their own inner narrative of why this style may appeal to them, as Rob Walker suggests in his book Buying In.

The Instagram application is a success not because of one particular thing, but because of many reasons as well as a good dose of timing and the trending of people’s interests. I think the application is a joy to use and has many great things to say about good quality apps that should do small tasks very well and simply when possible. I also think that if you want success in the marketplace with all the others apps out there then you have to offer a way to be social and share the idea, easily and freely. Instagram allows you to have fun be social and share things you find, that might otherwise be mundane and turn them into something new and unexpected, this is role of any great photographer. To capture the world and tell stories, this app helps.

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