Dezeen Magazine

Designers will soon be able to sell their products via Instagram, says its head of design

Instagram is rolling out a service allowing designers to sell their products direct to their followers, according to the platform's head of design Ian Spalter.

Spalter discussed the plans at a talk in Milan last month, held in collaboration with Dezeen.

"I'd love to see Instagram become an avenue for small businesses to become more successful," he said. "I think that would be a great opportunity."

Ian Spalter, Instagram head of design
Instagram's head of design Ian Spalter said "I'd love to see Instagram become an avenue for small businesses to become more successful"

In 2016, Instagram introduced a shopping feature enabling businesses to tag products with pricing information, which users can click on to buy the products via the company's website.

The service was initially only available to selected large retailers but smaller design brands can now access the feature if they have an Instagram business account.

Spalter suggested that, one day, Instagram users would be able to purchase products directly within the app rather than being redirected to an external website, as is currently the case.

"It's a new area that we're experimenting with and seeing what works," he said.

"I think that Instagram is a great place to learn about products in context. It's like a lifestyle – you see how it fits in as supposed to just a catalogue. So it is an area that we're continuing to develop."

He also hinted that the platform could branch out to enable users to pay for all kinds of different goods and services, similar to what social-media rival WeChat offers users in China.

When asked if Instagram would follow WeChat's lead and provide a wider range of services, Spalter replied: "It's an interesting question. I'm not gonna say no, not gonna say yes."

But he added: "We're constantly trying to figure out new problems to solve – and usually we look for behaviours that exist within the community and look for ways to make those things easier to do."

"So if it becomes something that we see , that there are small businesses that do transact on Instagram, there may be opportunities for us to make that easier. And [we might] go beyond just shopping, in these cases."

"Instagram connects designers directly to their customers"

Spalter made the comments to Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs as part of a panel discussion hosted by Dezeen and Instagram during Milan design week.

The talk also featured design journalist Michelle Ogundehin, Cabana magazine founder Martina Mondadori Sartogo and designer Yves Behar as panellists.

Design in the Age of Instagram talk
Spalter made the comments as part of a panel discussion hosted by Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs, which also featured design journalist Michelle Ogundehin, Cabana magazine founder Martina Mondadori Sartogo and designer Yves Behar

According to Behar, Instagram could provide a new way for young studios and design brands to make money.

"For designers, [Instagram] becomes a way for them to communicate and sell directly their customers," the California-based designer said.

"If you connect to a thousand people – or 10,000 people – with a product or an idea you can sell, then you have a marketplace."

Many small design brands have managed to grow by cultivating a following on platforms such as Instagram, Behar said, adding that making it easier for such companies to sell directly to their customers could provide a new way for young designers to earn a living.

"There's a very interesting phenomena, which is the booming of micro-brands – brands that you have never heard of but connect with a specific group of people, who are willing to pay and support this designer," he explained. "I think this could be real progress for designers."

Yves Behar
Designer Yves Behar said that allowing designers to sell products directly to Instagram users "could be real progress" for designers

Ogundehin agreed that Instagram provides a great platform for new talent to be discovered, including craftspeople who might otherwise have been overlooked.

"The technology has really made the handmade visible," the former Elle Decoration UK editor-in-chief said. "Artisans working in small ateliers can now be global, instantly."

"Instagram helps break barriers for any start-up"

For Mondadori Sartogo, who founded the luxury design and lifestyle magazine Cabana in 2014, Instagram helps foster an emotional connection between designers and their customers, which can help young businesses grow.

"Instagram helps break barriers for any start-up, especially if it's within the visual world," she said.

"When you interact with Instagram as a follower, you react straightaway to that image and there's a lot of emotional process related to that, which does help drive sales for anyone selling something. Because, ultimately, we are attracted to something immediately and emotionally as well."

Michelle Ogundehin
Journalist Michelle Ogundehin said Instagram allows designers to "be global, instantly."

Titled Design in the Age of Instagram, Dezeen hosted the talk at Palazzo Crespi in Milan as part of a partnership with Instagram to launch the social media company's new @design account.

The new Instagram account features design and craft from around the world, and offers followers a behind-the-scenes look at the design team at Instagram, which Spalter said is not widely known about.

"I consider Instagram to be a very design-led company, and that's not very common with tech companies," he said. "We have at least 60 people working on Instagram – people working in 3D, people doing the UI work – that's just invisible to people."

Martina Mondadori Sartogo
Mondadori Sartogo, founder of Cabana magazine, said Instagram can "break barriers for start-ups".

In addition, Spalter said he wants the new account to help connect the social media brand with more traditional design disciplines.

"I came to Milan for the first time last year and one of my takeaways was that a lot of what happens at Milan feels so disconnected from the world that I work in every day, which feels very different from the wonderful work that happens here," he explained.

"And so I wanted to create a space where a lot more cross sharing could happen."

This talk was filmed in Milan by Dezeen for Instagram. Photography is courtesy of Instagram.