DESIGNING FOR THE
In today’s social media-dominated society, designers have to ask: Are we creating spaces for the ‘gram?
Instagrammable spaces are all the rage. Places that have great col- ors, patterns, or graphics—ideally situated somewhere people can snap photos of themselves to post on social media—are creating a new type of design cache. These spaces draw both real visitors and
virtual “likes” in a way that underscores public appearance and suggests
social status can be gained through an appropriate backdrop.
A recent article featuring the exceedingly popular Museum of Ice Cream,
now with a number of locations, was titled, “Can Real Life Compete with
an Instagram Playground?” The piece highlighted the celebrity escapades
of Jay-Z and and Beyoncé as they cavorted in an
au courant pink pool room filled with sprinkles. (Tickets for the museum
are sold out, by the way.)
Even remote places in national parks are taking
on new life as people seek unique photo locations.
A number of recent articles have discussed how
“Instagram Hikers” are both “saviors and scourges”
in their enthusiasm to find and post images of great
natural sites (or, more accurately, “sights”).
While the influx is most evident through the
proliferation of social media—and yes, the United
States Department of Interiors has an Instagram
account—even those who don’t use social media
appreciate a great scene for a photo. These places
can convey a sense of who we are, what we love,
and maybe even a hint of what envious things we
In many ways this is great for interior design, which
has always played a role in expressing identity and status. The demand for
photo-ready spaces presses clients and designers to pursue interesting colors
and materials, and to consider views and experiences in new ways. What
does it take to get the lighting just right or the field of view framed perfectly for
This challenge is one that interior designers are well-equipped to meet.
Creating interior spaces involves the careful specification of materials, colors,
and patterns to produce an atmosphere that conveys a unique sense of place.
It’s not surprising that these spaces might draw attention and photograph well.
But there’s a catch: Are these spaces drawing attention simply because
they photograph well? If so, is that enough to celebrate a place?
As trendy as these Insta-worthy spaces may be, they are only the
newest iteration in a long-standing phenomenon that Juhani Pallasmaa
has spent his career discussing. Pallasmaa is a designer and critic whose
scholarship is rooted in a critique of vision as the dominant mode. He
argues that since the invention of perspective in Renaissance painting,
people have favored the visual over other sensory experiences. In doing
so, we settle for a more limited and superficial experience of places. He
advocates for a full-bodied, haptic engagement with the environment in
which we slow down to appreciate the smells and sounds in a space and
understand it through physical contact. It makes us ask if we are willing to
trade the instant gratification of an image and an Instagram like for the
satisfaction that comes from knowing a place more intimately.
Perhaps we can have our cake and eat it too. The most interesting
design and scholarship addressing the public realm seeks to blur or invert
the relationship between public and private. By doing so, this work challenges
us to become aware of our engagement with the environment and question
our relationship to place and the people around us. Like interior design,
social media offers the potential to fashion new relationships between public
and private. Private, individual experiences
are made public and communal. Shared,
public information becomes the basis for
private decisions and experiences.
Aaron Betsky, writing about the work of Diller
+ Scofidio (now Diller Scofidio + Renfro) sug-
gests, “Our stores, restaurants, bars, the-
aters, and other places where display takes
place are the institutions around which our
lives now revolve. We come to cities more to
have an experience—to see, to be seen, to
buy, to acquire well-packaged information…”
Betsky argues that display has become
a fundamental aspect of contemporary life,
but that by making these experiences and
their underlying mechanisms explicit, Diller +
Scofidio are able to “make visible the technologies of desire” and “recon-
struct the rituals of control.” In doing so, Betsky concludes, “Their ambi-
tion is to use the techniques of blur to make constructions in which one
is never quite sure what one is experiencing, where one is, or how one
The High Line in New York City epitomizes this inversion and blurring:
re-making private spaces bordering the formerly abandoned rail line into
new showrooms of consumption, framing views of busy public street traffic
for the leisurely and privileged gaze, and winding a public pathway through
some of the city’s most expensive real estate. Other DS+R projects do
similar things in different ways—the former Brasserie restaurant in the
Seagram Building or the renovation of Lincoln Center and the Julliard
School—each highlighting and probing one’s sense of seeing and being
seen in public. At its best, interior design alters the boundaries of inside and
outside, private and public, invigorating our sense of people and place, and
giving us opportunity to engage in more nuanced ways.
By William Mangold