Instagram Concept: A Personalized Explore Experience

Instagram uses its Explore page and Search bar to recommend pictures and videos that users may like. But too often these posts are random and cluttered. Many users do not search for hashtags anymore because they think that there will be too many spam posts or irrelevant posts.

A major part of Instagram is helping users discover new content outside of their news feed. How might Instagram cater to users’ personal interests with relevant and organized content?

Instagram Explore is Overwhelming

Current Instagram Explore

The current Instagram Explore page is overwhelming. When users are using Instagram for only 5–10 minutes at a time, they do not want to be scrolling through pages of content that do not seem related or relevant to them.

Understanding Why People Don’t Use Instagram Explore

At first, I thought that people did not use Explore because there were too many posts to scroll through. However from interviews and research, I discovered that users want to be sure they will see relevant posts before they started looking.

Here are some key insights from user research:

  1. Users only want to see one topic at a time.
“When I’m on the Explore page I’m usually in the mood for a certain type of post.”

2. Users want to see related posts grouped together.

“I wish all the categories were listed at the top so I don’t have to spend time looking for the categories.”

3. Users want to see posts and accounts related to the users they already follow.

“To find new accounts, I will go to someone that I already follow and see who they are following.”

Market Research — How other products explore user interests

Examples of how other apps display user interests

I asked users what apps they would use instead of Instagram Explore and many said Twitter, Pinterest, and VSCO. These apps often display users’ interests in the form of “likes” or “pins”, so other people can see them. Pinterest also groups posts into “boards” that people can search for.

Figuring Out Which Feature Spaces to Improve

Brainstorming Session

I recruited my two friends, Derry Chen and Ally Kosakoff, to help my brainstorm. After our brainstorm session, we decided on an opportunity:

Channels: How might we group similar topics to present to users? How might we cater to specific interests within a broad topic? How might we ensure users will want to see the posts?

Enabling Users to Find Exactly What They Are Looking For

The most common complaint about the current explore page was that the posts are random and unorganized. People want to see posts that are:

1. Organized by topic

2. Somehow related to them

Initial Approach

I decided to see if channels allowed for a smoother explore experience.

Paper Prototype for Channels

From user testing this prototype, I learned that users found what they were looking for quickly because they could search for multiple topics. However, the concept of “filters” seemed to confuse many because they were too similar to the channel names. I decided to change the filtering option to a “refine” option, that allows users to sort the results by different categories.

UI Elements for Channels

Taking into account user testing and market research, I determined what elements were needed for a successful channel.

Mind Map

Brainstorming Channel Requirements

After brainstorming different content requirements on a channel, I chose the most important elements including names, filter options, and add options. I chose to not include a description of the channel because the posts are right below the channel title and give a clear idea of what the channel is about.

Information Architecture for Instagram Channel

I also explored different ways to display the channels names. I decided on option A because all channels have the same effect on the results, so they should all have the same weight.

Allowing Users to Personalize Their Results

The filter and add options give users the freedom to refine their results.

Explorations for Add and Refine

The two actions on the channel page are add and refine. I played around with different placements of the two actions and decided on option A.

In A, the add button is in the top right corner, near the channel names. The placement of this button associates “add” with the channel names because they are both in the top section. The refine option is below the channel names and above the results. This placement is a metaphor for the user interaction because the refine option is used after a user adds a channel, but the user sees the results.

Icon Design

Now I had to decide which icon pair is the easiest to understand without any confusion.

Visual Design Explorations for Icons

I decided to stick with the most simple exploration. The down arrow for refine tells users that clicking on it will open a dropdown menu on the same screen. The plus sign is different enough from the refine symbol but also straightforward and easy to understand.

Refine Options

The refine option is crucial in allowing users to find relevant posts. From user research, I discovered that users find new content in 3 main ways: by looking at posts by IG’s recommended accounts, by looking at who the people they follow follow, and by using the explore page. To address the different ways users search for new content, I brainstormed several refine options that would help users organize their results.

Mind Map

Mind Map for Refine Options

I decided to allow users to sort by media type, order of the posts, and who the posts are by. Users want to see posts by people who have some relation to them.

I omitted the “saved by you” and “liked by you” options because they are redundant; users can look on their own profiles to see those posts. I also omitted the “posts by your followers” option because a user’s followers are usually involuntary and not personally picked by the user. Those posts do not reflect the user’s true interests.

Final Refine Options

Final Interaction for Channels

Final Interaction For a Channel

Producing Search Results

Users add channels to their posts, which show up in explore when searched for. Unlike hashtags, channels on a post are only visible to the user. Many people I interviewed said they refrain from using hashtags because there is a stigma around using too many. With channels, users can add topics to their posts to promote them and increase their audience.

Final Interaction for Posting with Channel

Allowing Users to Discover Relevant Content

One of the most common issues users had with Instagram Explore is the randomness. Users did not like how there were no labels or clear direction.

How Other Products Execute Exploring

Examples of Explore Features

Users are given a preview into the topic and they can add additional filters after they choose a topic.

Determining Entry Point

Explorations for Entry Points

I chose option C because it allows users to preview options before selecting them. The channels are on the same page as the explore page because the explore page is what users associate with new content, so naturally they would expect to find channels on that page.

Explorations for Channels on Explore

Within the Explore page, I considered a 1x3 row and a 1x2 row for the Channels. I decided on Option C, which has a 1x3 row with horizontal scroll. The scrolling allows users to browse through various channels from the explore page. This eliminates the step where the user has to click on channels in order to browse through them.

Visual Design for All Channels

Finally, I looked at how the channels would be displayed on the general channels page.

Explorations to Display All Channels

The images give users a preview so they know exactly what they are going to see when they click on a channel. Option B is consistent with the horizontal scroll on the explore page, but does not fit the screen size well for this page. Option C has a recommended section with 3 channels, and a scrolling Trending section. I chose option C because there are large image previews to show a clear identifiable picture of the topic. The recommended channels is limited to 3 because users usually only have a few channels that they regularly visit. The scrolling Trending section allows users to explore a diverse range of different channels that are currently popular.

Final Interaction for Discovering

Final Interaction for Entry Point

Origami Studio Prototype

What I Learned

With this product, I learned that placement in relation to other elements is important. If elements with no relation to each other are placed close together, users are less likely to engage because there is no clear theme.

With regard to the design process, I learned most importantly that product design is not all about visual design. This is my first product design project and I realized just how important users are to the final product. Looking back, I did not create enough explorations throughout the design process. For the future, I will create more explorations that address the diverse range of user needs.

Looking Forward

Instagram is a great platform for exploring new content and finding inspiration. However, users are not able to personalize the results to fit their own interests, which is what makes exploring new content useful.

Channels provides an opportunity to effectively explore new content. Users can add specifications to alter their search results to exactly what they are looking for. Instagram can became more than just a place to share photos with friends; it can allow users to find and get inspired by content that fits their specific interests.

This is a case study project for
Intro to Digital Product Design. I am in no way affiliated with Instagram.

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