Shutterstock Instant is the world’s first image search experience truly optimized for inspiration and browsing. Instead of trying to add more features to our core website, we thought we’d just re-imagine how a website would work if we focused more narrowly. Our hope is not to replace our current experience, but offer a new one for those of you in the exploration phase.

“I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for.”

This is the problem we set out to solve with this prototype. We heard it from many customers and we saw it in the data as well. Everyone has moments like these staring blankly at the search bar trying to figure out what to type – we do it all the time. Most search interfaces are designed for efficiency – “Type in a keyword and begin to refine your search.” So, we tried something different with this interface. How would a search interface look optimized for exploration? Would it allow users to play with words and images a bit before the refinement phase?

“It’s gotta be stupid-fast”

Our team figured out a way to return search results for all 19 million images WITH EVERY KEYSTROKE. From a technical point of view, we are pre-generating results for anything you could ever type – it’s basically auto-complete on steroids. We had to start on modern browsers to get the image load time the way we wanted it – apologies to those of you on older versions of Internet Explorer. Some customers will love this and some won’t (whether or not you stare at your keyboard while you type makes a big difference.)

“Ignore features that some people might expect”

Ever felt stuck in a Burmese tiger pit of advanced search features? We have too. It felt great to let go of the expectations of typical image search interfaces. Sometimes a little simplicity goes a long way to making a better experience.

“Visually Related Searches”

We usually start searching for something and realize too late that a different word at the beginning of our quest might have been more effective. So, we provide a visual representation of other potential search queries with the first page load. Many of us are visual thinkers, so the images right below the related terms help us scan quickly.

Jellyfish Instant Search
Jellyfish Instant Search

“Browsing has to be amazing”

Because we tend to explore more in this interface, we focused much of our attention on the browsing experience – it had to be delightful. We interlocked image results in a Mosaic view inspired by the Shutterstock iPad app, so you can view more images at a time. The images scroll endlessly allowing a user to browse 50 pages of content in about 1/20th of the time it would take to paginate through that same set of images. Once you click into the image, you’ll see our big beautiful 1000 pic images from the iPad application. From there you can scroll through images using your left and right arrows.

“Make it easy to save an image”

We made it possible to view 20x as many images as a customer might otherwise see in their experience. More images however, means that we need to make it easier to save an image for later. So, we introduced starring images – a simple way to keep track of your experience without having to create a lightbox.


We hope you like Instant search. We’ve put it in Shutterstock Labs, a place where we can innovate and get your feedback on new tools we’re creating for you. Please try it and send us your comments via the “Feedback” button.

— Wyatt Jenkins, Shutterstock VP of Product