How to Design Killer Instagram Story Highlight Icons

Adding story highlight icons to your instagram profile can really set you apart from the rest. If someone has made the decision to actually visit your profile (probably because of an engaging story, or beautiful insta post) you’re main goal is to get them to click on that little blue follow button. Instagram story icons are a beautiful way to extend your brand story, and tell people a little more about yourself. 

After a few attempts to get the right size and placement here's my process for the most successful way to design story highlight icons.

Step 1

First, ask yourself: what do I do? What's my brand all about? I tend to story a lot of sunsets, myself skateboarding, camping or paddle boarding. Currently you can fit 4 story highlight categories in view onto your profile. These "above the fold" highlights are the first ones people will see. 

Second, ask yourself what are my followers following me for? What do I provide to them? Are they following you because your posts are inspirational or make them laugh? Do you do a lot of recipes, how-to's or DIY's? More importantly, ask yourself what kind of followers do I want to find, catch and retain? Play into those motivations and design your story highlight icons around your ideal follower’s needs and wants. 

These are all key ideas to keep in mind when categorizing your story content. Currently, I want like-minded individuals to follow me for me, since I'm not a business and I'm not selling anything to anyone. Here are the current categories I'm going with for this time in my insta-career. 

1. Good Vibes - this is pretty open. These could be things I find funny like my friend wiping out while we’re skateboarding, or something silly someone said around the camp fire. 

2. Skating - Since I story so much about this, and this is the activity I do most, I felt like it needed it's own category. 

3. Sunsets - I'm in love with watching the sunset and sunrise. It's something I do for self-care, and it's my time to reflect on the day or my life in general. Plus, sunsets are my most liked posts, and most watched story. 

4. Single Fin - this is kind of a play on words/metaphor for me going at life solo. Sam single-finning her way through life. 


Step 2

Now that you've decided what categories are best for you, and will provide the most value to your followers it's time to design your icons. 

This is where your branding comes into play. If you're like, "dude... I'm just me. I'm not a brand." You trippin'. You are your brand. The clothes you wear, the music you listen to, and the way you talk are all the things that make you unique. That's your brand. I could go deep into this subject, but since this post is about creating/designing story highlight icons, I'll stick to the surface. 

My branding is very illustrative since I'm a designer/illustrator. It's also very beachy, and adventure driven. It was a no-brainer that my icons would be hand-rendered and have a lot to do with surf culture. 

Think about what’s unique about you and your brand, and use those concepts and ideas to propel your designs forward.  

I already had some icons drawn out from a previous instagram post where I drew "a few of my favorite things." I took these and revamped them a little bit since they're line drawings and small stokes don't translate well in teeny tiny icon from. 


In the example you can see that I simplified the skateboard since it was far too detailed. I also made the new icons just a fill as opposed to the old icons which had a fill and a darker stroke. 

Step 3

It's time to display your unique brand-focused icons to your followers in the best light possible. Be sure to pick colors that translate well as tiny images. I've made my sun icon yellow as a bad example. Bright yellow is a horrible color since the white of the screen is too bright and theres not enough contrast to make the icon stand out. 

Phone screen size for the most recent iphone is 1080x1920 pixels. Your photoshop art board should also be at 72dpi since this graphic will live in Screen Land only. (Printed assets are designed at 300dpi.)

I've made a template that you can download to make your design process easier. The red circle is your "live area." Only things inside that circle will display on the story highlight thumbnail on your profile. 

Save out for web (keyboard shortcut: CMD + ALT + SHIFT + S) and airdrop to your phone. 

Step 4

Uploading your story highlight icons is a tricky thing since you have to add your icon jpgs to your current story to get them to be the featured image of your story category. They will also stay live for 24 hours. It's kind of annoying to your followers when you're just uploading random graphics. 

Pro-tip: I would suggest creating a fake instagram account to "test" your icons. You'll most likely like the design, color and placement of your icons until you set them as your featured story image. To avoid multiple random story entries, just do the trial process on your fake insta. 

After you finalize your icons, plan a story around each icon so it doesn't look like you're just uploading random pictures without explaining them. Don't be afraid to call attention to your new story icon or story highlight category. Saying something like "Check out my skating adventure in La Jolla today" with your new skateboarding icon will make it a lot easier for your followers to digest as opposed to randomly uploading a bunch of unexplained graphics. 

And there you have it! Hopefully after reading this post you’re able to concept and create amazing Instagram story highlight icons that not only tell your followers more about you, but help organize your story content and make it easier for your perfect follower to find whatever it is he/she came to your profile to find in the first place. 

Are you currently using story highlight icons? Is there anything else you’d like me to go into further detail about this post? Be sure to comment below and let me know what you’re thinking.