Instagram’s last standalone app, Hyperlapse, made it possible to take striking steadicam-style videos on your smartphone. It was an awesome creative tool and an impressive technical achievement. So it would be understandable to be a little bit, well, underwhelmed to hear that the latest creation to emerge from the Instagram laboratory is… an app for making photo collages. Thankfully, it’s cooler than it sounds.
Layout, available today for the iPhone, lets you painlessly arrange smartphone shots in all sorts of configurations. It’s far from the first app to do this, but a handful of thoughtful details make it especially easy to use. Beyond those, it has some novel features, like the ability to flip images within compositions to create surreal mirrored shots, that make it an interesting creative tool in its own right.
Why build a collage app in the first place? For one thing, they’re popular. According to Instagram, one in five users already stitch photos together with some application of the sort. There’s something satisfying about packing small things snugly into boxes, something any fan of the Container Store knows well.
As Instagram’s designers saw it, though, existing collage apps left room for improvement. For example, upon launching these apps typically give you a slew of grids to choose from. Layout displays your pictures right away instead. This decision was based on a simple insight: People want to pick photos and experiment with different ways to combine them, rather than being forced to pick a grid and and then shoehorn pictures into it. The app further facilitates quick experimentation with a split-screen design, which lets you you swap photos, resize them, and adjust your composition without jumping through a bunch of different menus.
The app doesn’t let you put borders around individual photos within a composition—a choice made in the name of a cleaner-looking final product. As one of the app’s designers explained, they wanted to avoid the “scrapbook-y” look that some kitschier collage apps embrace. You can post your compositions to Instagram or Facebook, or just save them to your camera roll; you don’t need an Instagram account to use the app.