Swings were everywhere at BeautyCon’s flagship New York 2019 event. At the Pixi Beauty booth, guests posed on a swing propped up on a pedestal with pink flowers twined up and down its supporting ropes. Aveda put their swing in front of a wall of lush greenery. Meanwhile, Sally Beauty’s swing was half of a clear sphere, like sitting in a bubble. Other experiential marketing trends were applied to the swings themselves: floral design, statement walls, and lucite furniture.
Beyond the appealing aesthetic, swings provide a dose of interactivity. They’re an affordable and easy thing to add to your event or display that will make it more fun for guests. In addition to being photogenic, they transport visitors to a time in their life that was oriented around play.
Today, swings have connotations of both childhood nostalgia and adult luxury. But for much of history, swings weren’t symbols of carefree fun. In her book The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids, author and architecture critic Alexandra Lange explains how swings were once taboo for children, especially girls. In the early 1900s, concerned adults thought the psychological effect of swinging was too close to that of getting drunk, and that girls in particular might experience a corrupting rush of excitement.
Those rules loosened over the 20th century. Kids today grow up on swings, but the trend of depicting swings on social media seems to have begun with travel bloggers. The prototypical influencer shot, captured from behind while swinging out over a tropical beach, serves a dual purpose: signifying the status that comes with “exotic” travel, and catering to the aspirational desire for the viewer to be in the subject’s place.
The visual effect is similar to that of the viral #followmeto project, in which a man’s wife stretches her hand back to lead him around the globe. The angle of these photographs feels like an invitation to virtually enter the frame, and it’s a powerful one.
In 2017, CNET writer Eric Mack visited an idyllic beach in Sri Lanka. He found that the biggest draw for self-documenting tourists was not the wild sea turtles or coral reef, but instead a simple rope swing on a secluded section of the waterfront. Of course, the surrounding tourists and half-built hotels were edited out of the final shot.
Swings aren’t just popular among travelers; they’ve also moved indoors to Pinterest-inspired homes and hip hostels, like the Onas Hostel in Córdoba, Argentina where cage-like cane swings are lined with coverlets of white fur. The hospitality industry banks on guests documenting these novelties on social media, thus creating free marketing moments. (A similar swing is currently available from Anthropologie.)
Much like the conversation pit, a form of sunken living room seating popularized during the Mad Men era, the indoor swing represents complete novelty. It’s the luxury of a space dedicated entirely to play in an expensive and busy era. Swings center a space around a hub of activity and motion.
It’s not just about Instagram. Design experts say that giving people the freedom to move offers psychological benefits, too. Author Ingrid Fetell Lee writes in her book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness that the appeal of liberating spaces is encoded in us from our time as hunters and gatherers. The bookprofiles temporary tattoo startup founder Tina Roth Eisenberg. “The founder of Tattly and unabashed lover of confetti, has a swing hanging in the middle of her office. The swing gives employees a fun way to change perspective during the workday and opens up the space in a delightful way,” says Fetell Lee.
The thing that makes novelty a novelty is its surprise factor. Hopefully swings won’t go the way of other Instagram bait, like pink walls or neon signs, but that pendulum swings both ways, as it were. Regardless, event-goers will not stop seeking out opportunities for play and fun interactions with brands.
As Fetell Lee writes, “We sort our lives neatly into buckets of needs and wants, and even though joy’s origins lie in highlighting what is essential for our survival, it has come to signify the ultimate luxury, an extra we allow ourselves only if all our needs are met.” That carefree moment could be exactly what an event needs.