Iteration Without Alienation: Instagram’s Masha Ioveva Shares Her Tips For Growing A Live Product
“Always apply to work with the best designers you can reach.” That’s been Masha Ioveva’s guiding career principle. It’s a mantra that’s taken her to some of the world’s top companies, including Apple, and eventually brought her to Instagram, where she is now one of those “best designers” in her own right. As one of the social media giant’s Senior Product Designers, Ioveva strives for constant change and iteration; always pushing Instagram in new directions to maintain the app’s colossal success. So how do you constantly innovate and iterate without alienating your users? We asked for some of her best design advice.
What’s the best way to go about making changes to a live app without compromising UX?
Truly great products don’t stick to an experience that is fixed in time. Our devices and their capabilities are evolving and so are our expectations for what makes a fantastic user experience. Innovative patterns over time become established best practices and make space for new innovations. For an app to be intuitive and delightful, it has to keep up with the changes around us. It really has to be current to have good UX, so it must always be changing.
When designing for a product that is ‘live’ and growing daily, I’m reminded of that moment when Alice meets the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass and they start running as fast as possible only to remain under the same tree. The Queen explains:
“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.
If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
So you run twice as fast at Instagram?
We run as fast as possible to keep the app feeling simple and relevant while introducing new features. One way to do that is to make sure that new design patterns feel like natural extensions of established ones. It’s easy to see how story rings, the colourful gradient outline of the profile picture, has quickly become a staple not just at the top of Instagram’s feed, but next to each post, on people’s profiles, and even in search results. This pattern for activating a profile to show there is new content is reinforced throughout the app. It encourages people to both see their friends’ daily activity and share their own.
We also take the time to understand the use cases behind different behaviours. The way people share and express themselves, for example, has changed a lot over the past five years. Our community wanted more ways to share quickly and casually. So, we made changes to the app and introduced features like stories, disappearing messages and multiple photos and videos in a single post.
What’s your long-term strategy at Instagram?
Because people’s behaviour changes over time we are constantly reviewing our previous assumptions and making adjustments. Even though direct messaging was built into Instagram as a conversation platform we knew it was widely popular for sharing funny memes and discussions within groups. When we had to choose where to send people who wanted to comment on a story, direct messaging felt like a natural extension. This introduced more people to messaging inside the app and led us to more ephemeral content sharing.
As design thinkers, we also look for opportunities to create extensible systems. As we add features to the stories camera like stickers, drawing tools, live broadcasts and integrated boomerangs, we always make sure creative tools exist as a system that works together.
Is an app ever ‘good-enough’? Should you always be striving to iterate even if the users are happy with the existing product?
Never underestimate the value of change! We want people to be excited to try new things and able to master new interactions quickly. A useful product design goal for me comes from Csíkszentmihályi’s idea of helping users achieve a state of flow. This means people can derive both enjoyment and accomplishment from new features while staying immersed in the app. So yes, we want to always look for new ways to surprise, challenge, and ultimately captivate our users.
What’s the best part about creating subtle changes in Instagram?
The best part about working on a dynamic product is seeing whether and how quickly the community adopts a new idea, then racing to design the next extension for it. Sometimes new ideas are adopted and transformed in ways we never imagined and that gives us more ideas to build on to. It’s a wonderful race through the Looking Glass.