Instagram UX Research


This project was a UX research case study on Instagram in November, 2015. The main purpose of the project was to gain insights into the current user experience of Instagram by conducting valid research in order to further recommend potential UX improvements. To better understand the delights and frustrations of the user, a series of exploratory research methods were conducted. These included online surveys, semi-structured interviews and task-based user testings. 

My Role

As the UX designer and researcher, I created a task analysis for non-frequent user by setting up tasks and observing in usability testing to uncover where difficulties may lie in achieving one’s intended goals. And then, I created an online survey intended to reach different user groups and analyzed the data. Based on user research results, I created personas with accompanying scenarios to reach a more holistic understanding of the target populations. In the end, we proposed six feasible recommendations in order to enhance user experience of Instagram.

Design Process

1. User Research

  • Online Survey

The first method was an online survey. Distributing a survey online increased the probability of reaching a wide audience. The survey was intended to reach many different people, including both users and non-users. There were fifteen questions in total, including both closed and open-ended questions. 

  • Task-based User Testing

    To truly understand where usability can be improved, a task-based user testing was conducted with a non-user of the application to uncover where difficulties may lie in achieving one’s intended goals. Overall, the participant had a positive experience interacting with the application, completing 80% of the tasks. The participant indicated that the lowest rating, assigned to the direct message function, was a result of the lack of meaning given by the icon. This participant, along with many frequent users, initially figures out how to use this function through trial and error. If the purpose of this function is to share content with other users, Instagram should provide a more intuitive way to do so, especially given the desire for a sharing function as discovered in the survey and interviews.


  • User Interview

Our research team conducted a series of structured interviews with frequent users of Instagram. Questions asked elaborated on some of the more open-ended survey questions and received a wider range of responses compared to the survey. The data provided insight into everyday challenges and pleasures that users experienced with the application.

When asked what users found most pleasant about the app, the majority pointed to Instagram’s ease of use and ability to share content with others. Including both survey respondents and interview participants, a frequent response was the ease of searching and exploring for relevant content since users can search by name, hash tag or location.  

When asked about negative experiences, a large amount of respondents indicated that the inability to save other’s photos and videos or to share them was frustrating. One respondent indicated, “I ‘like’ photos to keep track of them, and I'm very disappointed to realize that I can't keep track of all of them.” The inability to save photos means that users cannot keep track of content that they might want to revisit. Additionally, many expressed frustration with the inability to upload content via the desktop site. 

2. Persona

Based on the results of the research, three personas were created that give a more holistic and personalized view of the target users of the application. It was clear that many individuals use the same features of Instagram for widely different purposes, depending on their needs. The personas and their accompanying scenarios give a better idea of which types of people would benefit from the addition or subtraction of select features. 


After synthesizing the result from user research, we made some recommendations for Instagram to deliver a better user experience. 

1. Collection & Repost 

Existing: There is no way to collect images you ‘like’ on Instagram. However, Instagram offers the option to “direct message” a photo to either yourself or another user. The research showed that many users rarely used this function or did not enjoy using it. As for reposting, at the moment, you are required to download an additional app (like Repostapp or Regram) and exit the Instagram app each time you want to perform this function.

                                                       1. Collection & Repost: On the left is the original version. To the right, a “collection” star is added as well as the “regram” icon. 

Recommendation: We suggest to allow users keep track of certain posts that they are interested in. Much like Pinterest, Instagram would introduce the ability to “collect” photos by simply tapping a star icon under a posted photo. On a user’s personal page, they would now have a tab to view their “collection.”

Secondly, we recommend that users be able to repost without a secondary app. A repost button would appear on the bottom right of images and tapping the button would allow users repost images with proper credit given to the original post. 

2. Privacy

Existing: By default, your Instagram account is public and your images are visible to any and everyone. However, you can turn on the Private Account setting to make your posts private so that only followers you approve can see them. 

                        2. Privacy: On the left is the original version. To the right, a drop-down menu has been added, allowing users to select either “public” or “private” image settings. 

Recommendation: We hypothesize that the primary reason Instagram does not allow users to save other users’ photos is due to privacy concerns. Not all users would want other people saving their images. So, to enhance flexibility and maintain security, we suggest that when users upload content, they will have the option to set the image to “private”, “public” or "friends".

3. Like List

Existing: To view the 300 most-recent posts you've liked, a user must navigate to his or her account settings in the app and then tap “Posts You've Liked”. You will not be able to view posts you've liked on the web. 

                                                        3. Like List: On the left, the original method of viewing “Posts You’ve Liked” is hidden away in the user’s account options.

                                                                            On the right, liked and collected posts can be found on the profile page. 

Recommendation: This recommendation is designed to help users find the “Posts You've Liked” page more easily. At the moment, it is hidden in account settings. We recommend placing this page on the user’s profile page instead. Users would now have a tab to view his or her “like list.” As for items that have been “collected”, they will also appear in the same location to make it easy for the user to access images that they have liked and/or collected. 

4. Facial Recognition

Existing: There is currently no facial recognition function on Instagram. Currently, tagging friends in a photo (as you're sharing it) is at minimum a 3-step process:

  • Tap Tag People from the Share screen.
  • Tap on someone in the photo.
  • Start entering their name or username and select them from the dropdown menu. If you don't see the person you're looking for, tap Search for a person. 

                                        4. Facial Recognition: On the left is the current tagging process. On the right, facial recognition has been added, simplifying the process. 

Recommendation: Users expressed frustration when tagging their friends in photos using Search for a person. To make tagging less of a chore, we would recommend adding a facial recognition feature to Instagram. It would recognize users who are following you and give prominence given to followers you interact with often. 

5. Improved Search

Existing: Currently, you can search on Instagram by using the search bar at the top of the Search & Discover page. The search page requires users to activate the search bar before search categories like top, people, tags, and places become visible. 

                          5. Improved Search: On the left is the original search page for Instagram. On the right, the different search options have been brought up a level, to be more prominent. 

Recommendation: This last recommendation would create a more user-friendly search experience. By making the search bar with categories visible from the start, users will not have to “search to search.” We would suggest bringing the categories up one level

If implemented, these improvements would enhance the experience for many different types of users, while maintaining the simplicity and ease of use that many users enjoy from the current version. 


A good UX designer knows how to translate user feedbacks into solutions. I believe that a validated user research is the fundamental of a killer UX design. UX design is more beyond creating beautiful screens. It is a about being able to research what's out there, get direct feedback from interaction with users, analyze the opportunities, run structured experiments, fail, learn and iterate until we devise something that people truly want. 

April 2, 2017 Update:

Instagram has added "saved post" feature in their new release which validated our UX recommendations back in 2015, such as "Like List" and "Collection" features.