Restaurants, museums — even entire cities — are making themselves Instagram friendly

A Smithsonian article published yesterday talked about the phenomenon of our Instagram culture changing visual landscape and what we’ve come to expect from design. It got me thinking about why I like the things I do, and conversely, what’s beginning to repel me.

In 2017, entire experiences are created solely to be posted on Instagram. Spaces like San Francisco’s Museum of Ice Cream or Refinery29’s 29Rooms are series of rooms filled, essentially, with Instagram props like a pool filled with rainbow sprinkles or a white unicorn to sit on. They are installations that almost don’t feel like they’re supposed to exist in an actual, physical sense — they seem intended to be experienced digitally.

As the article explores, food and restaurant design has also shifted to be almost solely visual. Though this trend has been around for awhile now, it’s only in the last two years or so that we’ve seen creations like the unicorn frappuccino, rainbow bagel, or “stunt food” like a waffle topped with a slice of cake. Taste seems besides the point in these instances.

It’s a trend that influences the work of even artists and museums, two groups you wouldn’t necessarily expect to adhere to more ephemeral digital trends.

“Large-scale, immersive exhibits such as “Wonder” at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery two years ago, featuring pieces like a room-size thread rainbow and mountains made of index cards, have become Instagram hits in recent years,” Matchar writes. “Their popularity has inspired a rise in similar exhibitions—large, colorful, interactive. Even museum building design and architecture is becoming Instagramized. The Getty Museum in Los Angeles rearranged mirrors in its decorative arts gallery to make mirror selfies easier, while San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art added terraces designed as selfie spots.”

For me personally — and a lot of others, I think — over the last year or two, I’ve gotten so desensitized to Instagram friendly design like white-washed wood, slim, attractive fonts, or pretty, patterned floor tiles, that I’ve intentionally sought out the opposite. It’s much more interesting to me, now, to see ugly design, less glossed-over vintage images, or artists whose work is intentionally visually jarring. Maybe that’s the pendulum swing we need to balance out the desire to always have social media-ready prettiness.

Patrick Janelle, an Instagram influencer, cofounded the Spring St. Social Society, which creates pop-up events in old subway stations or secret cabarets. He says these events aren’t always photo-friendly, and that’s OK.

“Ultimately what we want are really wonderful experiences,” Janelle told Smithsonian. “And sure we want to be able to document them on social media, but we also crave things that are just really wonderful and special in real life.”

No more articles