Certain Instagram users are more prone to comparing themselves to others which leads to a vicious cycle of negative emotions and adversely impacted self-esteem. This leads to an implicit need to adhere to an idealized beauty standard.

We conducted a series of research studies and rapidly prototyped ideas to persuade users to view Instagram filters as a means to express themselves and not to present themselves a certain way.

Filter Face-off is an online game that can be played with uptown 8 friends. Everyone is given a funny prompt for which they take a selfies using any of the filters available on Instagram.

The goal of the game is to normalize filters and make people comfortable with sharing selfies.

The game rewards players for using wild filters and sharing them with others

We designed Filter Face-off as an embedded Instagram filter game that could be played among a group of close friends using the Instagram group video chat feature.

Randomised prompts

All the players get the same prompt for which should take a selfie using one of Instagram’s many filters. The selfies are shared with everyone in the group.

Funnier the better

Everyone gets to vote for the funniest photo within the group, with the winner taking all points. Players can play as many rounds as they want to.

Bonus points

The winner of all rounds can get bonus points by sharing their winning selfies on Instagram. This provides added incentive to players.

We believe that Filter Face-off will help players open new avenues for how they present themselves online and nudge them towards greater self-expression. Repeatedly playing this game with a group of friends may reframe people’s reason for posting pictures on Instagram from trying to meet unrealistic and idealized beauty standards that perpetuate low self-esteem in users to more positive reasons like creative self-expression. Filter Face-off encourages people to be more authentic while taking selfies and also encourages them to experiment with how they present themselves to other people.

In the beginning, we thought filters negatively affected users’ self esteem and they should be persuaded against using them regularly

When the team came together, we decided to work in the space of online behaviors and well being. We chose Instagram as our primary case study to observe social media usage and set out to understand how everyday Instagram users chose to present themselves online. We wanted to what are the different factors that influence what they ultimately decide to share with their followers.

Instagram’s filters immediately drew our attention. Though creative and wild, Instagram’s filters have recently gotten a bad rap. News outlets covered stories about how Instagram’s filters negatively affect users’ self-esteem.

We theorized that filters perpetuate unrealistic and unhealthy beauty standards that negatively affect how users present themselves online. This hypothesis guided the phase of primary and secondary reserch to guage experts’ and users’ opinions about Instagram filters.

We learnt that filters weren’t the problem, but that the implicit motivation behind their use

A series of expert interviews, focus group sessions, and desktop research changed our understanding of how Instagram filters are perceived. In a way, this proved our hypothesis wrong, albeit partially, and led to new insights that guided our progress throughout the project.

Among the various insights we gathered, two findings stood out for us:


Filters are important. They help users experiment with different versions of themselves, not just to cover up flaws.


The motivation behind filter use needed to change; from adherance to beauty standards to self-expression and creativity.

Enter the Self-discrepancy Theory. This posits that every individual holds several points of views towards oneself including an actual self, an ideal self, and an ought self. We found that users have preconceived notions about their actual and ideal selves.

Relevant literature shows that users who have a higher mismatch in their actual self and their ought-to self are more likely to participate in social comparison, which is the leading cause for self-esteem issues. This mismatch is created and increased through online social comparison and the need to adhere to a certain beauty standard.

A visualization of how moving away from one's actual self leads to certain emotions

With this in mind, we aimed to nudge users towards a more positive approach to filters, byt shifting motivation away from adherance to beauty standards to more positive reasons like creativity and self expression.

how might we motivate Instagram users to move away from their ought-to self dictated by social pressure and expectations, and move towards their idealised self, representing who they want to be?

We explored gamified experiences that nudged users towards a healthy outlook to filter use

To achieve this goal, we wanted to take an embedded design approach, where we make use of implicit or concealed techniques to subtly persuade the user towards a course of action. Making it an explicit intervention could trigger unpleasant emotions if users feels forced to do something and we did not want to risk making the situation worse. This is where we utilised two crucial persuasive strategies:


Combine on-topic and off-topic material to make the experience less threatening and easier to engage with.


Conceal the true persuasive intent through distractions in order to make the content more approachable.

Through a series of brainstorming activities, we narrowed down on a social selfie game that could gamify the selfi-taking experience and reframe it as a fun activity for creative self-expression. While Instagram offers a wide range of filters, the mere availability does not actively encourage people to use them a certain way. This led us to conceptualising a game where a group of people carry out behaviors that nudge everyone in the group to follow suit. In our context, if a person’s friends took creative selfies using filters, they would also be inclined to do so.

Our line of thinking led us to the “Bad Selfie Game”, the working title for Filter Face-off. Played among a group of friends, players would be given a prompt for which they need to answer through taking selfies and using filters on Instagram. With this general idea, we kicked off the prototyping phase.

Prototype 1: Does the game create excitement?

The very first prototype was designed to test the premise of the game; does the idea generate excitement to use filters in a creative manner? We started off by creating a low-fidelity prototype in Google Slides with different prompt scenarios. For the prompts, we wrote down situations that would elicit extreme positive or negative reactions from the players.


Play with a group of close friends to create a comfortable space for everyone to try out funny and extreme filters.


Individually go through the prompt, select a filter on Instagram and take selfies


Share the selfies with the other players through a group in Instagram.

We tested this game with a group of 5 friends situated in the same room. While the players appreciated the general idea of the game and what its trying to achieve, there were some glaring issues with the gameplay.


Sharing selfies on the group was complicated and cumbersome


Finding the right filters on Instagram took a lot of time


Embedding the game into Instagram is preferred

Prototype 2: testing the group dynamic

For round 2, we took a different approach with a physical card game played in person. In this iteration, players pick prompts from a physical card deck, take selfies with filters on Instagram and share their pictures with each other by showing their screens to each other. Each round was timed manually.


Increased the time to respond to each round and randomised the prompt selection


Incorporated bonus points if players decide to post their selfies online


Encouraged direct collaboration and sharing of ideas across the group

One of the biggest takeaways for us from round 2 of prototyping was that the in-person game created a sense of camaraderie that was missing in a digital version. A lot of jokes, helping each other pick filters and actively engaging with each other increased the fun quotient. On the other hand, players weren’t fond of setting up timers or the cards and would rather have an application keep track of all this for them.


Voting and a point system created a sense of competition


Post-game surveys show that this round was more enjoyable


As the game progressed, the selfies were more risqué.

Prototype 3: testing the gameplay and rules

From the first two rounds, we learned that players wanted a low-effort game in which they did not have to worry about the logistics and instead only focus on taking funny selfies. Making use of this insight, for our final round of testing, we created a figma prototype of an embedded instagram filter.


Auto-detect user faces and provide a randomised prompt for player


Provide a pre-populated list of filters to choose from to answe the given prompts


Embedded into Instagram without the player needing to go to another application

This version of the game was liked by our participants because it did not require a lot of effort to se tup and allowed players to immediately start playing the game.


The social aspect of the game was preferred but missing


If played by themselves, they wouldn’t be inclined to play


An exhaustive list of filters was easier to choose from

We built a prototype of the Instagram AR filter using SparkAR to test the game’s impact

“Bad Selfie Game” is now “Filter Face-off.” We decided to change its name since it better communicated the competitive nature of the game and also highlighted the use of filters as the primary mode of playing.

Using Spark AR, we built out a working prototype of an Instagram filter that provides a randomised prompt to the player and they can then select a filter from the options available.

A screenshot of the the AR filter being built (built by Mia Hoffman)

Future prospects

Currently, the prototyped filter is built for one person to use on Instagram. To facilitate group play, this filter will need to be integrated into Instagram group calls where multiple people can play the game simultaneously. The functionality and technical infrastructure for multiplayer games is in the ealy stages of development in Spark AR, with group voting already available. Future versions of Filter Face-off will allow users to take selfies in response to the same prompt, then allow each user to rank the other participants based on the best selfie.

Looking at our goal, we were happy to notice greater inclination in players to post creative selfies online. However, we are aware that this is likely a short-term change. To study the effects of this game long-term, we will need to conduct a longer study over many months to observe a change in user behavior on Instagram after subsequent rounds of the game being played.

Closing thoughts

Working on this project has been an incredibly gratifying experience for me personally. The project space is personal to me and being able to generate ideas that could bring about a change in people’s behaviors was a lot of fun. Over the course of just 4 months, we successfullt built, validates, and leared multiple times and refined our idea with concrete insights. It was exciting to see the final prototype take shape!