Are Reels Helping or Hurting Our Creativity as Designers?

By: Kayla Blanton

In 2020, Instagram introduced Reels. And suddenly, the photo app designers once opened to study a room’s tiniest details greeted them back with 15-second angle-bouncing clips that, wait, also had music? And lip syncing? Talk about a serious case of whiplash. 

This update was, of course, made to compete with TikTok’s surging success. Two years later, designers are adapting (mostly because the algorithm gives them no choice), but many miss scrutinizing and appreciating a room that, well, doesn’t move.

Now, this isn’t meant to sound archaic or Scrooge-like. Designers and creatives are always adjusting on the fly, so pivoting with change isn’t the problem. This specific resistance is more about how brief, fleeting video will never capture the position of a vase on a mantel, the perfect pleats of a bedsheet, the scale and placement of styled shelves like a picture does. Video has its strengths (flickering candles look dreamier, billowing curtains, alive), but the design world will always need at least some stationary moments for inspiration. And there’s worry that they’re slipping away. 

“Reels take away the art of photography,” expresses Cher Guminey (@cgumin), an interiors enthusiast who has shared her antique-filled home—and built a following of nearly 12,000 people—on Instagram since 2017. “I feel they are simply a tool for growth only.” 

Not to mention, the short-lived clips take some serious time to produce. Sure, styling a photo can too, but shooting video, choosing sound, editing, and sharing takes the fun and, more importantly, accessibility out of posting for some people. “A designer doesn’t have time to essentially make a mini movie with stunts and mostly bad music,” Guminey adds. “You’re doing what Instagram is telling you to do.” 

And Guminey isn’t alone in her position—plenty of her fellow Instagrammers have taken to their grids to long for the past. “Who is here for the still shots?” vintage seller and designer Kate Pearce (@katepearcevintage) wrote under an April 4 post of her home office. ”I like Reels. Sometimes. For some things. But I also really hate that Instagram is trying to be TikTok instead of trying to be Instagram. Instagram, you were really good at being Instagram. I miss the real IG.” 

Sarisa Munoz (@indigoleopardhome) made a case for photos on July 23. “This is for those who like to zoom in on those little details! 👀,” she captioned a shot of her living room. “We all know that’s impossible with Reels.” 

As you probably know, a more recent test update changed Instagram to look almost exactly like TikTok for some users—full-screen scrolling and all. And while Reels still seem to be the priority (in other words, what’s showing up in people’s feeds), complaints finally grew loud enough for the powers that be to hear. On July 25, Instagram rolled back the new look in response to criticism (for now), but the platform’s head, Adam Mosseri, maintains that “more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time.” 

What does this mean for the design world? It’s hard to tell. But if you haven’t already, it might be a good time to subscribe to your favorite interiors magazines.

By Kayla Blanton: Jewel tones, brass, and amber glass make Kayla Blanton swoon. Those touches, plus lots of art, animal print, and road-trip gathered trinkets make up her 1920s Cape Cod in Cincinnati. You can read her work in Bustle, Prevention, Everyday Health, and more and follow her treasure hunting adventures @theweekendantiquer on Instagram.