Gradient use has reached peak levels, particularly within the digital world. A quick Google search will return pages of tutorials, guides, templates, automated systems, every one helping you create “an iPhone icon”. Every rainbow-hued, 100% saturated, round-cornered design solution batters the viewer into submission like a cage fighter aggressively wielding a bag of Skittles. The new Instagram logo is no different.
The recent Premier League rebrand, while not yet utilising the gradient, has taken flak from football fans for its luminous yet seemingly arbitrary colour palette; colours turned up to eleven and smashed together with almost no concern for what Phil-down-the-pub’s thinks of all of this. Pantone’s colour of the year is a specific combination of two, apparently “reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace”, soon to be prescribed as an over the counter suppository.
Instagram’s decision to implement the world’s current favourite graphic device is somehow both surprising and entirely inevitable. The obligatory accompanying video rationale jumps from rainbows to pixels to swatchbooks, the different justifications colliding and contrasting, fading from one to the next and then gone. “The rainbow lives on in form of this new gradient”, reads the press release as it fidgets and tries to avoid eye contact. The reasoning behind the designs holds up, the explanation of the process is credible, but haven’t we seen this all before?
The problem with these gradients, off-the-shelf colour choices and post-Jobs interface design tropes is that one size does not fit all. The visual language of the smartphone world is ubiquitous and inescapable. Proponents of skeuomorphism have been driven underground by the relentless march of flat and minimal, forced to level their bevels and drop their drop-shadows. All of this in pursuit of that Apple aesthetic, a company executive’s benchmark of desirability driven by numbers, and painted by numbers. Instagram believes that “The new design leans on that colour blur pretty heavily, with the simplicity of the icon.” And its brand has become exactly that, a blur. It’s modern, it’s minimal, approachable and adaptable, just like everyone else. In trying to signify everything, in the end we signify nothing at all.