Narrative in Instagram Experiences
I recently had the opportunity to go to Wonderspaces, an art exhibit that describes itself as “a showcase of artists with different concepts, approaches and backgrounds.” While I expected to be rapt by the art itself, I found myself unable to take my eyes off the crowd — a crowd that, almost without exception, viewed the entire experience through the lenses of their phones.
These photos were no doubt Instagram-bound, where the posters hoped they would reflect the coolest possible interpretation of their lives. And they probably would.
But when, I thought, did documenting an event become more precious than being present for it? (Presumably, that that can be linked to the rise of social media.) More importantly, how can we as experience designers avoid such a fate?
The answer is simple: narrative.
While it’s understandable that brands wants their experiences to go viral, that is not enough. Clients come to us to create stories that their audiences will inspire emotion in their audiences. That will transcend traditional modes of marketing to foster connections, shift thinking, compel action. They come to us for the intersection of art, design, and storytelling.
Made-for-Instagram experiences like Wonderspaces have the art and design down pat — but they’re missing the story. Aside from the cool pictures, what is the takeaway for audiences? And if there isn’t one, can the experience really be deemed successful?
To help answer that question, consider a traditional art museum. Have you ever gone in and casually glanced at a painting, considering its execution alone? You might appreciate the paint strokes, the color palette, and the subject matter and think, “how nice.” But you’re not truly moved until you read the background of the artist and learn of the inspiration for the piece.
That context is the narrative. It’s what helps us understand more deeply and invest more earnestly. It’s how we transform casual observers into active participants.
Brag-worthy photos are cool but creating opportunities for the audience to get invested is a hallmark of successful experience.
As an event attendee, consider, “What were they trying to tell me? What was the takeaway?” And if you’re left without a clear, meaningful answer, consider yourself cheated.
As experience designers, we will continue to push our clients to go beyond the hashtag. We’ll continue to design experiences that our audiences indeed want to share — but ones that also tell a meaningful story, create an authentic connection, and deliver real impact. Because otherwise, what’s the point?