In an era when success on Instagram generally equates to success in the real world, Kay Hill discovers that considering social media at the design stage is essential
Words by Kay Hill
A seismic shift in client attitude towards social media happened relatively recently, says Katie Lea, head of design at Manchester creative studio NoChintz. ‘About three or four years ago we were telling our clients about Instagram,’ she recalls. ‘Two years ago the clients started telling us about it. It’s a given now – it’s not really even a conversation. Everyone has to think about marketing and social media now – it’s as much a part of the design as putting a toilet into the restaurant.’
David Roberts, managing director of interior design agency FormRoom, noted a similar change. ‘Although it had been around for several years, Instagram became a mass social media about two years ago. We had been telling our clients it was a good idea to have an interior that’s shareable, that people want to take photos of – now it’s part of the majority of the briefs we receive. Even the small entrepreneurs now know that it’s what they need as part of their new space.’
That perception is certainly backed up by the statistics. A report by communication agency ODM Group found that nearly three quarters (74%) of consumers rely on social networks to help with their purchasing decisions, while a similar investigation by marketing platform Hubspot found that 71% of consumers said they were more likely to purchase based on social media referrals. While all forms of social media have their followers – Instagram, with more than a billion monthly active users seems to have the greatest influence – figures from Locowise, a social media performance-tracking firm, showed that in 2017 Instagram’s audience engagement rate was 70% higher than Facebook and 669% greater than Twitter.
Archie’s hot pink colour alone has become instantly recognisable in Instagram shots, but the widespread use of the name around the Manchester burger restaurant ensures maximum coverage. The numerous different photo opportunities around the venue encourage repeat visits. Design: NoChintz Fit out: Retail Outlet Design Signage: Hartbrights Kitchen: CK Kitchen Assistance Furniture: NoChintz
Image Credit: Joel Fildes
When it comes to restaurant and bar design, looking good on Instagram is part of the vital drive to attract the millennial spend. Statistics compiled by FTI Consulting revealed that this demographic spends 13% of its income on dining out, visiting restaurants on average four times a month, eating street food three times a month, ordering a restaurant delivery four times a month, and picking up a takeaway another four times a month. Combine that with research from pizza restaurant Zizzi, which found that 18 to 35-year-olds spend five days a year browsing food images on Instagram and 30% would avoid a restaurant if its Instagram presence was weak, and you can see why social media is now a primary consideration rather than an afterthought.
‘Businesses want to be successful and get known, and Instagram is a really powerful tool in the industry that should be thought of as part of the marketing budget,’ says Roberts. ‘Traditionally, that budget may have been poured into PR or editorials, or restaurants might have relied on food critics. Instagram has become another tool to advertise themselves and create interest.’
The difference to other forms of marketing is when that budget is spent. Rather than the old model of spending a little bit here and there on advertising, the spending on Instagram is front-loaded. ‘You are paying for it upfront at the design stage, but after that it provides free marketing,’ explains Roberts.
Milk Train, Covent Garden Milk Train in Covent Garden has a fun Tube station feel, with everything from the tiling to the shape of the windows reminding visitors of the London Underground. Signage such as Mind the Melt and the tracks in the floor encourage ice-cream buyers to pick up their cameras. Design: FormRoom Fit out: HK Interiors. Image Credit: Paul Lewis
In a way, Instagram is only an updated form of the word-of-mouth advertising that has always boosted businesses that invest in good design, notes Moscow based interior designer Roman Plyus. ‘I think the creation of beauty has always been part of an architect or designer’s job. The visual perception of beauty was valued long before the advent of Instagram,’ he says. ‘Think of any historical building that has impressed people with its beauty for centuries and it will have hundreds of thousands of pictures on Instagram. A good story always impresses people.’
The skill in using the design of a bar or restaurant as a marketing tool is not just about ensuring that images pop up on feeds; it’s that those images – even when snapped on a cheap camera – are instantly recognisable in a positive way. For example, residents of Manchester only have to glimpse a particular shade of hot pink on an Instagram post to realise that it’s about Archie’s, the burger company that earlier this year opened its new restaurant close to the city’s Piccadilly Station.
Buha|i|rest, Budapest Buha|i|rest in Budapest is a comfortable bar and lounge created in what was a textile factory. While the earthy colours and organic shapes are photo-worthy in themselves, it’s the Kaws Small Lie sculpture half-hidden by the stairs that makes everyone get out their phones. Design Roman Plyus Art consultant Angelica Chernenko Chairs Pierre Jeanneret (vintage)
Katie Lea from NoChintz was lead designer on the project, which features a giant ball pool, huge inflatable flamingos, a pink swing and a glittery wall, providing dozens of different photo opportunities for customers.
‘Archie’s as a business recognised the importance of Instagram and that its success comes from it – its growth as a brand is almost completely through the success of its social media,’ says Lea. ‘Aspects of the design were 100% because of social media. They wanted to make sure every single photo that’s taken there had the name Archie’s in it, so it always links up with the brand. You can shy away from branding, but they have gone full throttle on it, and it’s been a proven success.
‘The hot pink is really hard to work with, but it’s not just pink – it’s their pink. It’s loud and eye-catching and when you walk past the restaurant it jumps out. If you pick one thing and you run with it then that business becomes associated with it quite quickly and it becomes a beacon for the brand.’ It’s not just a question of putting in a few gimmicks and guaranteeing instant success, Lea stresses. ‘The experience has to be layered. There’s the physical experience and the online – you see where you want to go online, then you go there and you love it, and then you could become a lifelong follower. It needs to create not just a one-off moment, but to drive customers back time and time again. I’ve seen a lot of trends where things pop up and fly and then die because customers only go there once and they are done. Designers need to create holistic experiences.’
Roberts was behind the design of ice-cream bar Milk Train in London’s Covent Garden. ‘Creating a restaurant is like a fashion shoot, where the backdrop is part of the image,’ he explains. ‘With Milk Train, the core customers are young people, families and tourists, so it has elements of being playful, joyful and whimsical. The only thing we were given at the beginning was the name, and we had the freedom to develop a concept with some more classic design cues. No one was doing a British take on ice cream, it was mainly Italian or American diners, so we used the idea of the Tube and a sense of Britishness. People have responded well to it.’
Bar Zentral, Berlin Bar Zentral in Berlin is built in an old S-Bahn railway arch and has a rich, chocolatey palette. The key image that is shared, however, is the toilets which have been decorated in the dazzle pattern developed by the British artist Norman Wilkinson to camouflage warships in World War 1. Design Hidden Fortress Design Studio Berlin Architect Collignon Architekten Engineer Reinhard Pantermuller Furniture Majo Ertel carpentry Wall art Flavio de Marco
There’s a certain snobbishness in the design industry that still resists taking social media seriously, notes Roberts. ‘There’s a whole bunch of designers that say that being on Instagram is synonymous with poor design – tacky, trashy things like flower walls and neon lights saying “live, laugh, love”. They dismiss it by saying that it can’t be good design if it’s working well on Instagram. Depending on your audience, though, it might be a really good example of classic design – people just have to be interested enough to want to share it. I have a background as an art director, so I have a photographer’s perspective and know how to compose an image, thinking in that little square format. So I think about the composition around it and what I know will make a good photo that will become synonymous with the brand. Creating a space that’s shareable, whether that’s on Instagram, Facebook or even just telling your friends about it, generates marketing and publicity and gets people coming through the doors. It’s an essential aspect of hospitality design.’
While ‘shareable’ projects can be very different from each other, there are common denominators. ‘Everyone is looking for uniqueness – so the space can work just as hard as the marketing department,’ says Lea. ‘You want a hero image, where anyone can take that photo. Make it easy for them so they can look like a star within the space.’ That photo could be snapped under the ‘ended up at Archie’s’ sign, standing with an ice cream above the ‘mind the melt’ signage in the floor at Milk Train or posing next to an iconic piece of art. The hero image at Roman Plyus’s design for the Buha|i|rest restaurant in Budapest, for example, is the enormous Small Lie sculpture by Kaws that looms slightly menacingly from an alcove by the staircase. ‘It’s the surprise in the space, and a great find for Instagram photos,’ says Plyus.
Twisted Hippo, Chicago Twisted Hippo, a brewpub in Chicago, is set apart from the usual sterile, industrial feel of such venues, with bright colours and fun features throughout, including pink direction signs on the floor and a bright green canopy. Design Could Be Architecture General contractor Helios Construction Signage Right Way Signs Felt Fabrication TURF
Image Credit: Matthew Messner
In other cases the design, colour and texture provides the uniqueness and the photo opportunities. Bar Zentral in Berlin, designed by Hidden Fortress Design Studio Berlin, was bound to be photogenic thanks to being built into an atmospheric old railway arch, but the mind-bending dazzle camouflage design of the toilets soon became the iconic image. At Twisted Hippo, a taproom in Chicago designed by Could Be Architecture, it’s the bright green canopy and pink floor directions that catch the eye.
Founding partner Joseph Altshuler wanted it to stand out: ‘There’s a tendency for brewpubs to repeat an “industrial-chic” aesthetic featuring the materials of brewing (reclaimed wood referencing barrels and stainless steel evoking the fermenter tanks). These polite material palettes often convey a self-serious or sterile attitude. We explored the possibility of a seriously playful tone of voice. Embracing bold graphics, colour and texture, the design for Twisted Hippo cultivates a character as “weird and approachable” as the personalities of the brewers and their fans. We love selfies of patrons in our space on social media.’
Hey Yo, a patisserie and frozen yogurt concept store at Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong, was created by Vincent Li, design director at Design Action & Associates, who used the shapes and soft pastel colours of macarons as inspiration. ‘When you enter the shop, it is like living in the macaron world – colourful and rich in pink tones throughout the whole store,’ he says. From the round pastel tables to the wall art, everything picks up the sweetness of the much-loved cakes – with the arch motifs of the doorways and pendant lights being an added nod to the French patisserie.
The Museum of Ice Cream, New York The Museum of Ice Cream, an interactive art exhibit or ‘experium’ in New York and San Franscisco, has been designed to appeal to selfie-takers, with the experience revolving around creating the perfect shot for Instagram. Visual identity The Working Assembly
The issue of lighting versus easy Instagramming is a thorny one. Gian Pepe, author of a report for Jumper Media into the effect of Instagram on restaurant design, noted that ‘savvy marketers… skirt dim lighting in favour of bright overhead spotlights (which make for better pictures), choose menu items based on photogenics, and see everything from plates to plants through the lens of their iPhone X. New openings are eschewing low lights and candles for bright, bold designs and maximum Instagrammability.’
Roberts feels differently: ‘Lighting is a big part of hospitality design and you shouldn’t sacrifice ambient lighting. The primary purpose for visitors is to enjoy the space. The photo shouldn’t be the entire experience – it should be a memory of the experience. Don’t sacrifice the atmosphere to make it better for taking photos. In any event, today’s phones have fantastic low-light cameras and can take good photos even in a dark bar.’
Katie Lea is of the opinion that lighting is one area where designers need to be especially careful: ‘Lighting is crucial and lighting levels are really important. With neon lights and LEDs, sometimes your phone can glare things out, and as it can vary so much we like to get samples made and test them.’
If a handful of years ago Instagram was barely on the radar for restaurant design, one has to wonder what will come next. ‘TikTok is really taking off now, and it’s all about video and movement and motion, so designers will have to think about how spaces will work for a moving image,’ thinks Roberts.
‘Instagram will evolve,’ adds Lea.
‘So many businesses are reliant on it and the usage is so high that they will make it evolve. I think there will be a shift away from influencers, and authenticity will come back in, which is much-needed. We will see a resurgence in Instagram as something you can trust because a place isn’t on there just because an influencer has been paid for it. That will be a nice relief as businesses want real customers! Video has been on the increase for the past few years and it’s become more important and more mainstream, but the effects haven’t really filtered through to interiors yet. My advice for now is to keep it simple and bold, think about the basics of photography, and have fun.’