In place of spontaneity, many posts of late exhibit careful curation and evoke the look of scrapbooks — minus the ribbons, washi tape, and card stock. Consider the photos lined in colour-coordinated borders with captions written in flowing script. Or the two, sometimes even three photos, that appear in a single Story frame, each sized proportionally to the others with minimalist text filling the spaces in between.
These Stories are not the result of new creative tools rolled out by Instagram. Instead, many are created using Unfold, a free, third-party app that, according to its founders, has grown to 3 million monthly active users since launching in January and is adding over 100,000 new users a day. Nearly 50 million Stories have been made with Unfold in the last eight months. The founders say that despite spending no money on marketing, the app counts trend-setting influencers and celebrities (Camila Cabello, Olivia Culpo, Romee Strijd), as well as brands (Revolve, Topshop, Equinox), among its fans.
Unfold's premise is simple: Provide a series of templates that users can add photos (from their camera roll or a selection of stock imagery) and text to before uploading them to their Story. While other third-party apps, such as Ripl and Typorama, can also be used to elevate Stories with custom templates and playful fonts, it's not surprising that Unfold is rapidly gaining credibility with the Insta-elite: In addition to being easy to use, it promotes the same clean and modern design principles recognisable in many influencers' feeds.
The app is the love child of Alfonso Cobo, an architect with a design degree from Parsons, and Andy McCune, an entrepreneur who owns the millennial-minded travel media company Earth (which boasts one million followers on Instagram) and has a background in ad tech.
Cobo came up with the original idea for Unfold while searching for an app to create a sleek design and photography portfolio for an upcoming career fair. When he couldn't find one he liked, he made Unfold, drawing inspiration from his "favourite editorials and independent magazines." The idea to pivot the app to Instagram Stories came later, stemming from an ethos that "people don’t want to showcase their work in a private portfolio, they want to showcase it to the world. They want to tell the stories behind their work, and they want their stories to be seen."
When the app was in beta with only 376 users, Cobo connected with McCune, who had been using some of his own, self-designed templates for Stories, over Instagram DM. The two partnered to bring Unfold to life.
What's interesting about Unfold's growth is that it goes against some of the early thinking about Instagram Stories: When Instagram launched its 24-hour Stories format in August 2016, it was seen as a place to bring back some of the imperfections and spontaneity that had been lost in the permanence of the carefully curated feed. There, a singular influencer style often prevailed and gave rise to the dichotomy of Instagram versus reality. Stories, it seemed, could be a place for more experimentation.
Although Unfold includes more than 30 templates there is a risk that mass adoption of the app could result in tonally similar Stories and lead to some of the pitfalls faced by the regular feed. Still, in the same way that not everyone is drawn to the influencer look, not everyone will like the appearance of, and extra work required by Unfold. For those who do want to create a more polished, yet casual, aesthetic for their Stories, there is now a portfolio-worthy option at their disposal.