With Instagram and the “selfie” generation changing the way guests experience visitor attractions, it’s also changing the way designers are designing these attractions. Here InterPark talks to Matt Dawson, vice-president of business development at global entertainment design agency FORREC, who shares five ways Instagrammable moments are impacting the theme park industry – from designing for the selfie (and the selfie stick!) to considering the bucket list traveller

  • Design for the selfie (and the selfie stick!)

Matt Dawson: Long gone are the days that theme park designers are designing for the camera lens and enter the days they have to design for a whole new angle and perspective: the selfie and the selfie stick! A number of things go into designing that perfect Instagrammable moment such as repeating patterns, using bright punchy colours and creating backdrops for photos around the park.

InterPark: So what is your interpretation of an Instagrammable moment?

MD: At the risk of making a circular argument “Instagrammable moments” are experiences that lend themselves particularly well to appearing on Instagram. Instagram images were originally square-formatted (neither landscape nor portrait) and (unlike other social media platforms) put a preference on image rather than text (status update, caption, etc.) Instagram has therefore developed a consistent “look” even with millions of participants. At theme parks, Instagrammable moments are often the iconic photo-op, like taking a picture in front of Cinderella’s castle at Disney.

IP: What are the key differences in designing for a camera lens and the selfie? One could be forgiven for thinking that taking a picture, be it with a more traditional camera or using a selfie stick, wouldn’t be that much different.

MD: The biggest difference is that a traditional camera looks forward (like an eye), whereas on social media people typically turn 180 degrees, use their phone at arm’s length and compose an image with them in the frame. We used to take pictures of things and now we want to be in the photo ourselves. The selfie really changed the game, allowing the picture-taker to be the focus of the shot rather than just behind the scenes.

Image courtesy FORREC

  • Transform the ordinary into extraordinary

MD: Theme park designers now think of Instagram in almost everything they design. They now have the opportunity to transform every inch of space – like a simple wall – into an Instagrammable moment. Example: Disney’s purple, geometric wall at Magic Kingdom.

IP: Can you provide more examples of designing for the selfie stick?

MD: Theme parks are designed to accommodate large numbers of people; the amount of space each person takes up changes when they are holding a 3ft stick in front of them! More generally, experiences that look Instagrammable to people tend to draw crowds. From a functional/visitor flow standpoint, where people congregate needs to be larger to accommodate increased numbers of people clustering and space for them to get out of each other’s pictures. Now designers have to think about more than just creating a good photo-op; they have to take into consideration the space needed for multiple groups of people to use while making sure that these areas do not block the flow or functionality of the theme park itself.

  • Consider the “bucket list” traveller

MD: The “bucket list” traveller – the one who just wants to snap iconic photo-ops for “the gram” – is on the rise. While theme parks have always been a source of iconic moments, think the mountains at Canada’s Wonderland (designed by FORREC!), there is a strong demand, now more than ever, to create as many of these moments as possible to make sure that every experience is Instagram worthy.

IP: What age groups are we talking about in relation to this huge increase in selfie taking? Is it just youngsters, is it a family/friends group thing, are mums and dads taking more photos of their kids “because they can?”

MD: It depends. Different social media platforms tend to attract different age groups. Facebook tends to attract an older demographic versus Instagram. China, however, is a huge market but Facebook isn’t used there at all. I think the one thing to remember is almost everyone, no matter their age, is on some sort of social media and all of them are looking to share their experiences, whether it be with their family via Facebook or thousands of followers on Instagram. Social media doesn’t have an age limit and for theme park and visitor attraction designers, that’s the tricky part – creating an experience that has something for everyone to experience and capture, that could be the perfect selfie moment or a spot for a great family photo.

  • But don’t lose sight of authenticity

MD: It’s clear that clients are asking for Instagrammable moments to be incorporated in the planning process of every project. But designers have to stick to their core vision and narrative to make sure that every “moment” is authentic and will stand the test of time. With the long-term and costly nature of projects like major theme parks or visitor attractions, it’s not about quantity, but more so quality and longevity.

IP: If designers must stick to their core vision and narrative, compared to how it used to be done, how is this now achieved if they are designing for the selfie?

MD: Theme parks are expensive and permanent and so there is a basic conundrum in their use as social media back-drops, in which newness is at a premium. As theme park designers, it’s about striking the right balance. Designing for opposing goals (Instagram vs experience, online vs in person) is always a challenge. At FORREC we take a different approach and focus on the guest experience first, giving attendees what they want (which may include a sharable moment) as well as long-lasting, high-quality experiences. By stitching those both together we can create amazing in-person experiences as well as social media ones. 

  • Remember, the experience is king

MD: Theme parks and visitor attractions are intended to be an ultimate escape – a place where you are removed from your everyday life and immersed into a whole new world. That’s what makes it magical. As the Instagrammable moment trend continues to rise, designers must stick to their roots and remember that the experience is king – and in fact, a true immersive experience is one where you don’t even think to take your phone out.

IP: So as a designer how do you stick to your roots and ensure the experience remains king when you are also trying to cater to the selfie brigade?

MD: Essentially that’s the ultimate challenge! And if you can do both, well you’ve struck gold. Focus on creating a great immersive experience for your visitors, with engaging stories, and you will create meaningful and authentic experiences.