Alumnus Refines Instagram App Logo
By Dan Rosplock
Mackey Saturday (BFA-07) is an independent multidisciplinary designer and self-described Identity Specialist. If you’re one of the nearly 100 million Active Monthly Users of the photo app Instagram then you’re probably already familiar with his work. He was commissioned with the delicate task of redesigning the logo of that massively popular social media platform. The improvements he made were intentionally subtle, so subtle in fact that Instagram has been able to implement the new design without making a formal announcement to its user base. Mackey took the time to talk to us about the thought process that went into this high-profile project, how his time at UNC prepared him for the field of independent design, and to offer some advice for Bears who are interested in entering his profession.
How were you initially commissioned to do the Instagram logo redesign?
I had been in contact with Kevin [Systrom] who is the CEO. He and I had met before they even had a design team and got to know each other. So he knew me and knew of my work before they were in need of anything and before they had grown to a really large scale. Then, once they really blew up, he came back to me and asked me to work on this. It was from a technical level that he really appreciated the work that I was doing, and he also knew I had a good understanding of the brand and its founding principles. I had known him almost from the start so it wasn’t like a big firm coming in that didn’t understand him trying to push different ideas on him. Rather, it was me, an individual who understood where he came from and what he had been striving to build. I was able to make sure that the new logo tied in with that.
What were your priorities and major concerns as you were undertaking the redesign process?
The biggest concern was keeping the brand equity that they had already established. I don’t know how many millions of users they had at that point but they already had a lot. I actually started working on this before the Facebook acquisition—that occurred during the process—so it just became a very public brand with tons and tons of people using it. I think they have over 100 million Active Monthly Users now, so creating something that is still what those 100 million people know and love, only better, was always the concern that outweighed everything else. It was, okay, we have our standards: we have where we want to go with this, we know how we want to improve this. How do we get all of that across so it’s something that can live for a long time, something that they can be very proud of? How do we do that while maintaining what’s already there, what everybody had known and grown to love even though it wasn’t perfect from the beginning?
What are the improvements you had in mind with your final design?
One of the big things was connecting all the letters from “N” to “M” so it would have more of a handwritten feel to it. With that fluidity, there’s intentionality to each letter and how it connects to the next one whereas the letters in the last logo read as separate even though it was a script. So now it’s a truer script. I also cleaned up a lot of technical things as far as how the letters were laid out. I implemented some uniformity so it read more clearly. We also really worked with the overall height and width of the mark so it would fit better within the app. Now you can actually get a little more size and clarity out of it.
Yeah, there are so many tiny things that people don’t realize are thought about. Or they don’t even notice the change once it’s executed, but it really allows them to get more of what they want.
So, just generally speaking about your work as an independent designer, what would you say are some of the more interesting aspects and biggest challenges of working in your profession today?
One of the most interesting things, I would say, is the ability to get to meet and know a lot of people and their products that they’re very passionate about. You get to see the back side of things, not just the front. You get to understand what makes a company, where they came from, and their hardships. You’re able to experience a lot of really cool stories. Then, I get to take those stories and communicate them to the public as best as I can through these very small, small marks. I also love to travel and this grants me the ability to travel a lot. So that’s fantastic.
Some of the challenges are non-conventional hours. That’s a guarantee that I have: 9 to 5 means nothing, Monday to Friday means nothing. Those all become totally irrelevant and I have a lot of long, long days and sleepless nights. It’s really worth it to me, but I know for some people the ability to have a constant schedule is priority. I kind of gave that up, at least for now. And then there’s the challenge of just getting to know clients. You get to know a lot of people, and there are a lot of personalities out there, so you have to learn how to communicate really well. Sometimes that can be a challenge from person to person or when there’s a big process in getting an idea approved. Then it has to go through three tiers of a company and they all have different opinions, so that can be a challenge.
Were there any particular classes that you took at UNC, any faculty members, any organizations that you were a part of that you feel either put you on this path or helped you to develop the skill set that you’re currently utilizing?
I think there are a few things that really helped with that. I have a visual arts degree, so I didn’t get a design-specific degree. My focus was not in graphic design actually. Dennis Morimoto, he was the dean of the department at that time, allowed me to have this independent study as my focus.
This allowed me to take a lot of classes that weren’t my default classes. It was a lot of independent studies with professors. I worked with Tom [Stephens], the sculpture professor. He had some very small classes with just a few undergrads and a few grad students, and that really forced us to get into what it was like to live as a professional and not just as a student. We had to come up with our own assignments and we had to decide what direction we were going with it. The amount of work we produced was in accordance with how many credits we were getting. It was things like that, as opposed to the standard syllabus structure, that really helped shape my understanding of my projects: how to balance my time, how to pick a direction, how to focus on those things that will get you to your goal. That’s what you’re doing every time on a project with a client, you have to manage it on a lot of micro-levels.
Since it’s graduation time, I was wondering if you have any advice for students who are about to enter the design profession?
For one thing, there are tons of jobs so don’t just jump on the first one. I think that after college people tend to take a job quickly just to have a job, but the design industry is growing so rapidly that if you’ve got a decent level of skill then there are a lot of jobs out there for you. So be very cautious about where you take work, I think that’s important.
I would also say, take a lot of chances because once you get out of school you’ve probably got the least amount of commitment that you’re ever going to have for the rest of your life. It’s the best time to make your mistakes. Get your hands dirty, get in there and mess up a few times, but pursue the things that you really want to do. Learn your lessons now when your failures will have the smallest impact. I think it’s very important to do that.