Following vs Unfollow

A few years ago I was working for a small startup Totspot which unfortunately announced a shutdown earlier this year. Totspot tried to create an eBay for used kids’ clothes. I was hired as a junior designer who just graduated from the university with a graphic design degree, slowly moving to the world of UX. Being the only designer I was playing roles of the whole design team, helping with all marketing assets, branding as well as UI/UX. Our mom social community was organized around kids’ clothes resale while connecting moms of all ages together. One of my first design problems was to redesign a profile page with one small micro interaction, a Follow button.


Being a junior designer means spending lots of time looking at works of established experienced designers, learning best practices and basically reusing them for your own projects. After a short research I found one small but pretty important problem: big companies such as Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter have a huge inconsistency in use of colors for their “Follow” button. Pinterest’s “Follow” button is bright red, but Instagram’s (before their last redesign) and Twitter’s button stays white with an outline when you are not following a person. That inconsistency and inability to find a good article that could explain thoughts behind choosing the color for Follow button, was driving me nuts. While working on this I changed my mind a few times asking our developer to make the change back and forth.


Another interesting thing I noticed was the use of language. None of these companies use negative verbiage, such as “Unfollow”. To unfollow somebody in Instagram a user should click “Following” button, which makes everything super confusing but apparently for a good reason 😉.


Latest Instagram update is not much different, but they finally swapped the blue stroked “Follow” button with a solid blue one, and as a result you now see a stroked button style on a page you’re following.

Big companies don’t make changes without extensive research, so let’s try to understand what approach makes more sense. For platforms such as Instagram and Twitter “Follow” button is the only call to action and the whole idea is organized around concept of people following other people. Anybody who has ever worked with marketers knows that any CTA has to be bright, big and centered. In other words making “Follow” button bright and standing out from everything else on the page can bring more followers. While hiding “Unfollow” button a bit with an outline might help to keep those who are already following.


Almost 3 years ago I as an uncertain junior designer made a decision not to follow Instagram’s pattern just based on my gut feeling and after Instagram’s recent redesign it seems like that was the right decision!