Ian Spalter steps down as Instagram’s head of design

By Katharine Schwab

Instagram’s Ian Spalter has stepped away from his position as the company’s head of design. Spalter shaped the look and feel of one of the world’s most influential social media platforms and oversaw its design team at a time of tremendous growth. Luke Woods, head of design at Facebook, which bought Instagram in 2012, will take over his role. Spalter is moving to Japan to lead Instagram’s new office there.

Spalter has had a long career in design, with stints at YouTube, Foursquare, and R/GA, where he worked on projects for Nike. He arrived at Instagram in 2015, and has overseen the app through a design refresh, notably through the redesign of the app’s icon from a more realistic Polaroid camera lookalike to the abstracted, colorful emblem it is today, and the introduction of Instagram Stories in 2016, which continues to drive the app’s growth.

He is also one of a few black executives in tech, and has repeatedly used his position to speak out on the importance of diversity in the design industry. At the 2018 Fast Company Innovation Festival, Spalter explained how he was able to use his position to prevent Instagram from shipping an AR experience that may have been offensive to black people.

Some see Instagram as the future of Facebook, which may be part of the reason behind the leadership change. Over the past few years, Instagram’s executives have slowly been replaced by counterparts from Facebook. In 2018, Instagram’s founders left the company over a variety of disagreements with Mark Zuckerberg. Instagram is now led by Adam Mosseri, formerly the head of Facebook’s News Feed. The company also recently replaced the app’s head of engineering James Everingham with Nam Nuygen, who has been at Facebook since 2011.

Facebook’s reshuffling is not limited to Instagram, however. Earlier this year, the company’s No. 3 executive, head of product Chris Cox, and the head of Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging app, Chris Daniels, both quit on the same day. In 2018, the founders of WhatsApp also left the company.

Facebook is currently under fire for a continued series of privacy and misinformation scandals that recently pushed CEO Mark Zuckerberg to announce a shift in the company’s strategy toward smaller group communication and messaging, including a new redesign that looks similar to Instagram.

Zuckerberg is also planning to break down the technical walls between Instagram direct messaging and Facebook’s Messenger, bringing the two apps closer together. It remains to be seen whether that ethos will be applied to the design of the different platforms, too. Will Instagram’s interface mirror Facebook’s more closely? Will Woods revamp Instagram to increase engagement and advertising revenue in the same vein as Facebook? Stay tuned for updates.


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