I’ll admit it, I’m fairly new to Instagram. After all, it only became available to Android users like myself last year. But I was also resistant to diving into yet another social media time-sucker. And now I’m addicted. As a designer, I love how it enables us to communicate visually, and literally presents our points of view. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

After a few months of Instagramming, I’ve noticed that it has actually changed my behavior in how I observe the world around me. I now think in terms of visual composition almost all the time. We could debate whether that’s mentally healthy or not, but what is undeniable is that it has sharpened a lot of my fundamental design skills even after 20 years of pushing pixels. Here are 6 ways Instagram has sharpened my design skills:

Sure you could center everything, but some things just feel better off-center or cropped in an unexpected way. Viewers respond to visual tension whether it’s on instagram, a web page or a print ad, and cropping is one of the most effective ways to create that tension. Here’s a great post by Steven Bradley on what Visual Tension is and How To Create Visual Tension in Your Designs.

As designers, the most important tool is the power of observation. I’ve noticed that I observe my surrounding a lot more than I used to. I’m always looking for an interesting angle, perspective, pattern or graphic to share, and in doing so I’m actually noticing a lot more things around me. Some would call it OCD but I’d like to think of it more as creativity! Here are some eye-opening hash tags to explore on Instagram: #foundart #foundtype #typography #patterns #iseefaces


Bold colors and negative space tend to get the most “likes” in TRÜF’s Instagram feed. When you can open someones eyes or change their perspective with a pop of color you’re practicing color theory. When you can pull your viewers into a particular object by surrounding it with a color or black and white, you’re practicing the power of negative space. When you’re looking through a grid of Instagrams, pay close attention to which ones stand out from the clutter and take note. Odds are that you’ll notice the bright and/or simple ones first.

People love consistency. In the design field, it’s always important to be consistent as it establishes a style and thought pattern that belongs to you and you only. I’m sure you’ve noticed that many design-related accounts have those perfect-looking pages where everything seems shot with the same lens, with the same frame and a particular filter. This gives the the company or user a sense of being “polished and professional.” This is by no means the only way to create consistency. Personally, I find my consistency through my subject matters and the way I crop things. Even if your subject matter is completely random, always find some way to tie them all together or else your page ends up looking like a garage sale.

Designers should always make the most of what they’re given. In the case of Instagram, we’re given a small square as our canvas. That small square has infinite possibilities especially when you start considering depth of field and perspective. You can create depth simply through having a great shot, but more often than not we tend to shoot with our mobile phones from a straight-on position and a lens that’s not, professionally-speaking, ideal. So, next time you’re capturing an image with your phone, try shooting it from a different angle. Get down low or climb up high if you can. Use the blurring filter to create selective focus. I’m still learning to develop this skill with Instagram and a phone camera, but when it works it, I love the result.

Cropping, visual tension, observation, color, consistency and depth all come together to create the ultimate end product in our design world: The Composition. It’s what we do, how we solve problems and present them to the public. Without solid composition, we’re not doing our jobs. It takes years to hone and the learning process never stops. That’s why after 20 years of composing designs of all kinds, I’m still learning how to do it and discovering new ways to go about it. I didn’t set out consciously to make Instagram part of my learning process, but after a few months it definitely became apparent that it was changing my perspective and behavior as it relates to design. And a fresh perspective is always a great thing to have.

How has Instagram changed or helped your design behavior?