Instagram, video and making memories

I always thought that what Instagram did really well was to help you capture a moment like you’d like to remember it was (not necessarily exactly how it was). The app kind of visually editorialised over what was happening, adding something (effects) you probably wouldn’t have been able to art direct yourself. So it helped you make beautiful momentoes. And in doing so, Instagram positioned itself much closer to users’ hearts than Facebook managed, with its factual, snippy status updates, or than Twitter with its more cerebral breaking news pieces and outbound links. Instagram managed to create an environment where it was easy to create beautiful artefacts, and then built a community around those feeds that were generally supportive and affirming. I think this affirmation has become part of the memory itself. Something happens, you capture it and Instagram it and then a later recollection of that moment is comprised of the event, the process and the outcome. Of course for the user, this is all mashed into one, single memory. And it’s often a better memory than you might have been left with without Instagram. It’s quite the product ambition, but maybe Instagram set out to make memories better.

Of course, throughout all of this, there is to some degree a suspension of disbelief by the user and community. Everyone knows the view didn’t look like that, that the sun wasn’t that saturated to the human eye and that those friends didn’t look quite as much as though they had come straight from a Terry Richardson shoot. But I was thinking recently about Instagram’s decision to add video to its service. It’s an incredible technical achievement (filters processed on the fly, anti-shake camera). But with more frames, a broader picture of what’s happening and more perspective, what effect will this feature have on the service’s ability to shape and stylise memories simply and beautifully? The reality of video competitor Vine is that a massive proportion of the value that service offers users is in the “method”, not the outcome. Vines are fun to composite but ninety nine percent of them are completely unwatchable. And as a result, Vine may never create the same kind of community around its creations.

This morning I came across this great post which calls Instagram’s addition of video, “The Death of Fantasy”. Exactly. Of course people will jump into videogramming and probably create new sub-art forms. But the memory making has changed by becoming that little bit more literal. I’m sure product developers and startups in similar fields will be watching the effects of this with interest. It only takes a tiny glimpse of an edge case amongst online communities for a fresh new service to rise from a rupture in usage. Let’s see.


NB: If you want to videogram your food, wobble the plate a little. Makes it more interesting.

Less And More

I was just reading more of the recent iOS 7 commentary (I’ve nearly had my fill..) and thinking about Sir Jon Ive’s oft-noted admiration for the designer Dieter Rams. in the more than 40 years that he spent working at Braun, dieter rams established himself  as one of the most influential designers of the twentieth century. His elegantly clear visual language not only defined product design for decades, but also our fundamental understanding of what design is and what it can and should do. His design philosophy is summarised by the phrase “Less and More” (see the book). I suppose one of the ket tenets underpinning that is that simplicity, attractiveness and functionality are not mutually exclusive; that you can indeed have less and more. The way this is elaborated on most clearly is via Rams’ ten design principles:

good design is innovative.
good design makes a product useful.
good design is aesthetic.
good design helps to understand a product.
good design is unobtrusive.
good design is honest.
good design is durable.
good design is consequent to the last detail.
good design is concerned with environment.
good design is as little design as possible.

In thinking about how we go about creating digital products and experiences today, I think these principles are more relevant and important than ever. In fact, when you look closely, many of these come from the same intentions as our old fave, Eric Ries’ “Minimum Viable Product” (also, see adjusted versions “Minimun Desirable and Delightful Product”). When make websites, feeds, apps and other ideas it’s often tempting to be novel rather than innovative, faddish in our design or create communication products that interrupt rather than add value in other ways. The design principles above should apply more than ever to products that have interactivity embedded in them. We need to strive to have a person understand the intention of the design (without knowingly being a part of that process) and to have a clearly articulated view of the usefulness and role of the things that we’re making. If we try and follow those principles, stuff we make can have significance. For a product, being significant in some way, is the ultimate ambition.

Just thinking out loud :)


(The last time we referenced Rams’ and “Less and More” was when Georgie, The Royal, wrote and designed this piece called iPad: WTF?. It set out to explore what role tablet computing products might come to play in people’s lives. Since publishing that in 2009, the iPad has clearly found a place in many people’s daily habits.)