Instagram Concept: Featured Photos

Personalization Case Study on Instagram


College dorms are notorious for a lack of privacy. As students, the places we often rely on for retreat become common spaces. From shared bathrooms to cramped bedrooms, there are few to no spaces where college students can find complete privacy. Unfortunately, in today’s world, a lack of privacy extends past the walls of dormitories. Like college campuses, the online landscape, filled with endless social networks, has fostered the growth of a culture of sharing. Through websites and applications, we find our lives being shared with the public. As such, it’s hard to find an environment that fosters individuality and allows for privacy. Thus, my initial hypothesis and inspiration for studying Instagram was: Instagram is too public.

User Research

With this mindset, I set out to research the pain points of Instagram surrounding privacy, particularly in terms of posting content. To do so, I interviewed several people that account for a large part of Instagram’s user base — college students — and collected data using a survey. By doing so, I learned the following:

  1. Users felt restricted by their audience: “I wouldn’t want them to see that side of me”
  2. Users were hesitant to engage with content: “Unless I’m really close with the person, I don’t like their content”
  3. Users felt no personal connection to their profiles: “A lot of times, Instagrams don’t accurately represent the person”

Brainstorm 1.0

With my friends Kelly and Neeru, I brainstormed possible solutions and gathered many opportunities. We grouped these into the following feature spaces:

  1. How might we allow users to post without worrying about certain followers? Although this feature space is a tremendous issue within the Instagram community, users are slowly finding their way around this issue. With the Finsta Movement, users are now creating secondary accounts open only to their closest friends and family. This said, moving forward with this feature space will most likely not have tremendous impact.
  2. How might we encourage more engagement with content? Unfortunately, getting rid of the stigma around liking pictures is a cultural shift that will require more than a new feature to solve. The likelihood of low impact pushed me to focus on one of the other issues.
  3. How might we make profiles more indicative of users? Users feel restricted when it comes to their profiles. They can post pictures, change their profile picture, and add short bios, but beyond that they have little ability to customize their profiles. Because of this users feel that their accounts don’t portray themselves. Having said this, implementing a feature within this feature space will likely have a big impact.

The Meaningful People Problem

Initially, I sought to solve a problem I thought that all users had with Instagram; however, my research and first brainstorm shot that hypothesis down. Quickly, I learned that we, as designers, can not let our assumptions lead our design process. Therefore, I let go of my preconceived beliefs and honed in on the needs of the user. Specifically, I decided to focus on the issue of personal connection:

When I use Instagram, I want to personalize my profile so that I have a more personal experience, but I can’t do that well because Instagram only allows me to post pictures to my feed and change my bio, and there’s a disconnect between physical and virtual personas.

Market Research

Before brainstorming specific solutions, I sought to find how other applications allowed for personalization. From social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to photo-sharing sites such as Flickr, there was one commonality between profiles: users could highlight their favorite content.

How other designers have increased personality

Likewise, I worked towards creating a similar feature in Instagram.

Brainstorm 2.0

Once again, I rallied my friends to aid in my design process. We came up with the following solutions:

  • Music: This feature allows user to share their listening habits and post their favorite music and addresses the need for more personalization by adding a different outlet of expression to a user’s profile; however, it requires a tremendous amount of external app support. This can result in user’s using the app less.
  • Albums: This feature is part of a user’s profile and allows users to group their previous pictures and add to the collections (users can choose to share and make these albums private). The strengths of the app are: users can control who sees albums which allows for personalized profiles. A major weakness of Albums is that it does not allow for much more profile personalization; however, users no longer need to delete pictures they don’t like because they can save them in an Archive Album.
  • Featured Photos: The Featured Photos adds a way for users to further personalize their profiles (think: pinned tweets and cover photos). This addition to Instagram would work towards making a more personal experience within the app by allowing another way to set users’ profile apart.

Weighing impact with feasibility, I ultimately chose to move forward with the Featured Photos featured. Although the Music feature worked towards increasing personalization, it called for external app support which could draw users away from the app (impeding on the business goal of increasing usage). Similarly, the Albums feature would have increased personalization, but it’s low impact and overlap with the new new slideshow feature make it impractical.

Interaction and UI

I started with an initial sketch of the user flow and basic screen layouts of how I thought the feature would fit within Instagram’s ecosystem:

After user testing, I learned that there were numerous errors in my assumptions of user’s mental model. For the entry point, testing showed that users sought more emphasized featured photos. Fellow designers warned me that mosaic styles and my initial layout were both tricky and intrusive. Both parties emphasized a need for an end point that provided more feedback. With this information, I set out to build a more comprehensive, intuitive interaction.

*Below, I elected to insert pictures in my medium fidelities because the feature is so content-focused.

Entry Point

The access point of Featured Photos is the User Profile. I bounced around from placing the featured photos at the top of the profile to the middle of the page. Ultimately, I chose to place the feature at the top of the profile because placing the feature in the middle of the feature made the user’s feed look cramped and there was not enough distinction between a “Featured Photo” and a regular photo. On the other hand, placing the entry point at the top emphasized the pictures and created an environment similar to other apps.

Left is cramped, Center is not standard, Right is the final iteration


For the user, the main component of the “middle” interaction involves three steps.

  • Selecting a featured photo: To emphasize the fact that Featured Photos are supposed to highlight user’s favorite memories, I chose to have users pick their Featured Photos within their feed (users select a picture they’ve posted and “favorite” it).
  • Making a photo featured: This step could be implemented in two ways: it could be part of the photo menu that blurs the background or there could be an icon on the photo page itself. Because of the people problem, I chose to place this step on the app page itself: this would allow followers to make the distinction between featured and non-featured pictures evident. Placing this step in the photo menu would make the feature hidden and inaccessible.
Photo Option vs. Star
  • Cropping a picture: For this step, I drew inspiration from Facebook’s . cropping mechanisms as well as Instagram’s own editing features. In the end, I elected to place the cropping step on the user’s profile, instead of different page. By allowing users to see how featured photos will look on their profile, they have the ability to test their options and personalize their experience. If this feature was implemented on a separate page, users would not be able to see what their profiles looked like before finalizing on a featured photo.
Separate Page vs. On-Profile


To provide users with ample feedback, the final step in this interaction brings users to their respective profiles. I decided against bringing the user back to the photo page, because then they would question whether they had completed the action or not.


The points discussed above relate to the user, for the viewers (followers) my intent for the interaction was simplicity. With less steps in the interaction, more users would be inclined to sue the feature. The interaction is as follows: followers view featured photo on user profiles and can take a closer look at the featured photo by clicking on it, which brings the viewer to the featured photo’s page (with a filled star for indication).

Filled Star

Visual Design

My intent for the visual design of my feature was to emphasize user’s content to solve the people problem. The biggest problem I had in creating visuals was in maintaining the hierarchy and keeping all components of the existing app visible. At the same time, I tried to keep a good pace throughout the interaction so that too much content wasn’t on the screen at once. To do this, I had to play around with the user’s information (name/numbers/bio).

Ultimately, I pushed the user’s name to the top of the info, thus placing the importance on the human instead of on the numbers. Likewise, I kept the post/followers/following count, but reduced it’s size so that users would not be defined by these numbers; rather, the focus would be on the content. The Edit Profile and biography elements were kept the same. For the typography of the user’s info, I made the weight of all the text the same to group the information and create a cohesive look

Initial Idea, Bold Idea, Final Iteration

For the cropping step, there was no “standard” within the app so I drew inspiration from Facebook. I took the notion of a floating, opaque box and placed it within the user profile. However, strictly copying that idea looked out of place within the app. Instead, I decided to make the opaque box darker to mimic the blurred background that occurs when certain menus are reached on Instagram. To make the visual design less intrusive, I decided to push the box to the top.

Facebook — Inspired vs. Selected Iteration

Final Flow and Prototype

User-View, Final Flow

Sorta (Not Really) The End

Instagram — Moving Forward

Instagram is used by millions of people daily, but this does not mean it comes without faults. Users have pointed out that there is a lack of personalization. In working towards this solving this problem, I learned that users are frustrated by their inability to portray themselves accurately within the app. By creating a solution for this problem, whether that be implementing Featured Photos or a different solution, users will be more apt to spend time on the app. Beyond achieving the business goal, solving this people problem can also aid in creating profiles that accurately represent the user.

What I Learned in Boating School is…

A few months ago, I had never even heard of digital product design. But after this semester-long project, I have learned more about it than I ever thought I could. From learning to define a problem to creating stacks of sketches that translated into a polished Sketch file, my mentors guided me to be purposeful in my designs. Beyond designing with intentionality, I learned that design is more than just an art; it is a thought-process (read: design-thinking) that can be applied to any problem. Because of the class, I am now not only proficient in Sketch and inVision, but I am also aware of the many steps required to solve a people problem all the way from defining the problem to developing solutions.

However, I am aware that I still have a long way to go when it comes to product design. When I look back at my case study, I see faults in the design decisions I made: picking the picture should not be limited to the photo page and my visual design could have been more intuitive. Despite these faults and the many long nights working on this case study, my love for product design and appreciation for design-thinking has grown tremendously.

Aside from learning new tools and skills, this case study and the course have taught me the fundamentals of design: Design with purpose. Design for people.