How the Threads design team branded the app

We hear from Instagram’s director of brand design Cynthia Pratomo, who compares developing the look of Threads to “building the plane as you fly it”.

27 July 2023

It’s almost been a month since the launch of Threads, the so-called ‘Twitter killer’ which beat ChatGPT for the fastest-ever growing user base. The idea was simple; the app was going to be a text-based version of Instagram for sharing “ideas and trends”. But the branding of Threads had to work hard. It needed to feel tied to Instagram and the tools and community its users have come to expect, but it also needed to stand out from well-established competitors and feel separate, with “a unique voice of its own”, says Cynthia Pratomo, director of brand design at Instagram.

There was another challenge designers were up against: time. In fact, the Instagram design team began work on Threads when the product was still being built. “The idea of ‘building the plane as you fly it’ has long been a Silicon Valley cliché, but in the best possible sense, it really captures how the development of Threads’ branding felt,” Cynthia adds. The project was led in-house by Cynthia, with designers like Jez Burrows drawing the already famous ‘@’ logo.

To kick off the project, the team began with what they did know about Threads. They toyed with references around written language, the idea of “connection” and the name Threads – which was still yet to be finalised. In particular, Cynthia and the team would return to the ‘@’ symbol again and again during development, as a shape which is synonymous with online identity. Though other options were also considered, like a ‘t’ that incorporated a loop and another at sign that was housed in the Instagram ‘squircle’ container. Other concepts were a bit more unexpected. At one point, an illustrated notepad in the style of the Instagram camera lens was mocked up.

“We drew dozens of variants, but ultimately returned to the simplicity of the original,” says Cynthia. The logo was finalised using Instagram Sans, created by Colophon Foundry in 2022 for Instagram’s rebrand.

Perhaps one of the most surprising departures Threads took from Instagram was the colour palette. After using a vibrant gradient for years, Instagram has rolled out a black and white app.

“There was a lot of excitement from the start about the black and white direction,” says Cynthia. But even this decision was the result of weeks of development and discussion. The app saw untapped potential in the confidence black and white suggested. While Instagram’s colourful gradient had represented the colour spectrum of photography, black and white could be used to represent text.

Despite this pared back approach, things are not solely serious over at Threads. Cynthia says the branding attempts to tap into a sense of “spontaneity and candour”. Playful touches were established from the outset, like a ribbon motif, which appeared across the very first glimpses of Threads that appeared on the Apple App Store. “There’s a vibrant creator community already on Instagram, and we wanted to frame Threads as a new lightweight space for creative expression building on the Instagram tools creators already love,” says Cynthia.

While users have fluctuated since the initial launch, and Twitter has steamrolled ahead with its own black and white rebrand, the Threads identity presents a major case study for how a brand like Instagram can make a new name for itself.

GalleryInstagram: Threads (Copyright © Threads, 2023)

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Instagram: Threads (Copyright © Threads, 2023)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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