You’re scrolling through your Instagram feed when you see it: the disembodied hand or indiscernible part of a skyline. It’s not a mistake, you’ve just discovered the Instagram #setofthree.
For those not in the know, the #setofthree and its variants, #setofsix, and #setofnine take advantage of Instagram’s grid layout to use three consecutive posts as one. I’ve seen it for a while in many personal posts, but the other day I spotted it in Relonch’s Instagram feed as well as previously in Mag Mod’s, and I realized the phenomenon of grids for panoramic images has spread.
If you're thinking about trying out that grid idea, don’t do it. I implore you, for the sake of all of our Instagram feeds.
Why am I so down on the tiling images on Instagram? While it’s an interesting idea, it’s terrible from a design standpoint. Consider that while on a mobile device, someone will more or less see this:
But on a computer screen someone will instead see the image with huge chasms between them:
Never mind the fact that in someone’s feed, it’s more likely to aggravate than titillate. I find myself scrolling past things I can’t recognize. I’m aware some schools of thought say it drives traffic to your Instagram page, but that short-term gain can be squandered if all people ever see are snippets of photos instead of entire creations. Ever since Instagram switched to an algorithm-based feed instead of a chronological one, there’s no telling which part of your image users will see.
Consider the Medium
It’s a basic rule of web design: it’s got to work on as many devices as possible. And while thinking like a photographer, these tiles may work, in practicality they don’t look how you think they look in all platforms. Instagram was designed to work with single images (or galleries that load from a single image now), and so that’s generally the best practice. As long as you have a compelling image at the extreme left or right of the image, a gallery is a better way to showcase a panoramic image, but only on mobile devices. On a computer, instead of getting a smooth scroll with your finger and the ability to enlarge each image, you just get a page refresh and your next image. Again, the medium is the message. While a gallery or set of three may be the way you want to tell your story, it may be better to serve it up in a way that works with Instagram’s intended way of doing things.
The other aspect to consider is that by posting a set, you’re stuck posting in threes. One single image post after tiling will offset the whole grid and your images will be “broken” until you reach three posts again; also not a good look. And if Instagram ever goes to four columns or two, then you’re stuck again. With resolutions and screen sizes increasing every day, this is not an impossibility.
So if tiling is bad, and galleries are only marginally better, is there a technique you use to share images that don’t quite fit into Instagram’s way of doing things? I’m all for single images and making it work, but I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.