People who roll with Firefox may have noticed the appearance of a Reader View icon in the address bar. Click on the icon and the website you are viewing is instantly stripped of all its clutter, leaving just you and the main text laid out against a crisp white background. No ads, no sidebars, no nothing. How glorious to be free of the extraneous and left to focus on what is important.
Instagram has also been feeding from the same reductionist trough. This month the company launched a new website characterised by Spartan design. Photos are now bigger and displayed 3 abreast rather than 5. The banner of assorted images has been removed from the top of the page. Also gone are a host of lines and borders. Tellingly, Instagram has opted to let all the space freed up by these changes to remain…free. The new website is awash with clean, light space.
Youngme Moon speaks to this phenomenon in her book Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd. Floating the term ‘reverse-positioned brand’, Moon says some brands deliberately decide to buck the augmentation trend in their category – for an example of the augmentation trend in social media think Facebook and its never ending march of new features. According to Moon, these reverse-positioned brands then imbue their scaled back value proposition with “some form unexpected form of extravagance”.
In the case of Instagram the photos are the centrepiece. They have increased in size, sit in ample space and almost anything that detracts from their pictorial splendour has been removed. In a world usually characterised by sensory overload, the user is afforded the absolute luxury of enjoying the photos in a visually quiet place. The larger photos also improve browsing useability by allowing the user to evaluate their content without having to click and enlarge each photo like they did before.
Resisting the pull to constantly offer consumers “more” can be a powerful way to create differentiation. By removing the superfluous, Moon points out, you “shed new light on the fundamental”. It may be my minimalist leanings talking here, but Instagram has refined its offering brilliantly.