Creating awesome design work and letting it sit online isn’t enough to build a name for yourself. To get recognized you have to promote yourself and build a personal brand. This post is for any designer who wants to get more recognition and create a brand around their work. Digital designers, interface designers, print & graphics designers all need exposure to land gigs and build clients. I’ll cover the fundamentals of personal branding to help you create a recognizable entity around yourself and your amazing design work. Nothing happens overnight but with perseverance you will see results over time. The center for your personal brand is your website. This is ultimately your personal space to promote your life, your work, and who you are as a person. But too many designers follow the trend of “simple white minimalism” and keep their portfolios barren of anything. This is the wrong way to go for many reasons.
- Simple minimalist sites don’t leave an impact on visitors
- Your site will look exactly the same as hundreds of others
- It’s tougher to create a personal identity
You can do really well with a simple portfolio site if you customize it with your own features. Drop illustrations, icons, or photos of yourself into different pages. Use custom text. Write amazing copy and create an experience that people remember. Somehow your portfolio site needs to stand out and be memorable. If you’re a UI designer then it should definitely be a well-designed haven for your work. The type of site you should avoid is the plain white minimalist homepage with a gallery of work, no info about yourself, and no pages explaining who you are.
People hire other people and they want to know who they’re hiring.
Claire Baxter has an excellent personal site branded under the name “Vanity Claire”. It uses a large header photo with a handful of top navigation links. This design is incredibly unique and it grabs attention fast. When you scroll down the first thing you get is a little background covering Clair’s work history. I highly recommend this strategy because it forces the visitor to recognize that you’re a person. When you meet someone face-to-face this is obvious. But websites can be managed by companies or smaller teams of designers so they’re less personal. Let the visitor know that you’re a person. You live somewhere. You operate in a certain area. You’ve worked with X clients and you have Z years of experience. Claire does all of this on her site with incredible detail and some fun copywriting. I cannot praise her site enough. Even if you don’t necessarily like her design choices, the branding style and copywriting both sell a quality experience to the viewer. Please note: you don’t always need photos of yourself to create a personal brand. They do help a lot, but you really just want to stand out from the herd somehow. This can be achieved through unique fonts, layout styles, color schemes, iconography, or even a unique handle. The portfolio of Meagan Fisher uses the branding Owltastic and has for years.
Over time this brand seeps into the web and creates a memorable search term. If you’ve never worked with a designer before then you may not remember their name. But you could remember finding awesome work on a site called “owltastic” which inevitably leads to Meagan’s site. You’ll notice she does have a photo on there too along with some personal details. Her site is perhaps much more complex in design but also less personal in appearance. There are many ways to tackle a branded portfolio. The key is to determine how you wish to present yourself to the world and how that might look on your website. Lastly I wanna add that a simple layout can work really well, so long as you have branded elements to go with it. There’s nothing wrong with minimalism on its own. The difficulty is when a plain white website looks like so many others that you name doesn’t even dent the barrier into someone’s memory.
My favorite example of a simple-yet-personal design is Ethan Marcotte’s website. The logo is pretty simple and he doesn’t use more than a few colors. But he does use strong typography with short sentences and a simple writing style. Not to mention the photo absolutely helps to sell his personal brand. Rely on your intuition to figure out what you want on your site. Would you rather have people remember you under a pseudonym or a brand name? Or would you prefer to plaster your face across the entire website? There really are no limits to branding. The biggest factor is memorability so try to design a portfolio that leaves an impact on visitors.
Design Spec Projects For Attention
The reason I recommend spec/personal work is because you have full control over the end result. These are the best projects to promote ‘cause they best showcase your abilities and they’re likely to grab the most attention. Client work is made for the client. Built for their needs, their wants, and made on their budget. This work will not always be the prettiest so you can’t always expect it to grab attention or go viral on social sites. If you’re looking for a cool idea consider redesigning a major site like LinkedIn or Facebook. Put your name all over the project. Write about what you did in a case study on Medium. Share that post on Designer News. Bring as much attention to your projects as possible. Try to keep client work awesome but don’t expect much from it other than a paycheck.
For cool ideas browse the redesign tag on Dribbble. You’ll see tons of shots created just for practice to improve the designer’s skillset and to bring attention to their name. You might also design a freebie UI kit or icon set and release that to the world. All of these ideas are great, but they’re only half the battle. Once you’ve created a sweet design project you’ll need to share that puppy far & wide to bring attention from anyone who’s willing to look.
Getting Work Out There
Branding does include advertising. It’s part of getting your name known by clients and other designers. You have to promote your work because nobody is just going to find it; or at least close to nobody. So don’t rely on luck to get noticed. Push your best efforts out to the world and give people a way to follow your design work. I recommend a few sites you should join solely to promote. It’s a good idea to share your posts across as many sites as possible. But don’t join one if you feel uncomfortable using that platform. You want to build the largest audience possible while still having fun using the sites you enjoy. These are my top recommendations but feel free to skip some or find others that work better for you.
The beauty of Pinterest is the built-in possibility of going viral. Some pins can hit thousands of repins being shared all over the site. When this happens your pins will rank for common searches and you’ll get a consistent stream of traffic from people browsing the site daily. It takes a very long time to build an audience on Pinterest. But in my eyes this visual network is one of the best you can use for design work.
Here’s another pivotal social network for designers and I’m guessing most already use it. With Instagram you can rank for hashtags and grab attention from their massive audience base. If you’re smart you’ll target larger accounts and try to get your photos posted with shoutouts. For example, @ux_ui_wireframes has 25k followers and it frequently reposts photos from other Instagram users. Make some killer wireframes and try to get your photo into their feed – I guarantee it’ll net you some followers.
I’m throwing in Tumblr for good measure even though it’s more of an art/photo site. But many designers use Tumblr as a resource for animation. So if you design interfaces and do UI/UX animations I absolutely recommend Tumblr. It works similar to Pinterest where if you get enough reblogs you can see consistent traffic month-over-month.
For a free portfolio site there’s no better choice than Behance. Everyone from print designers to web designers, artists, motion designers, branding experts, pretty much everyone is on the site. It’s also totally free and you can upload as many pieces as you like. This is my go-to suggestion for anyone new to design who wants to start building their portfolio fast.
The counter to Behance is the invite-only community Dribbble. It’s much harder to join because you need to find someone who’s willing to draft you. Generally speaking the quality is much higher on Dribbble so you’ll be in good company. It’s also a great way to let people know you’re available for work. Just gotta find a way to sneak in! So these are my top picks for networks but do your own research and see what else is out there.
Interact With Other Designers
If you want to be a professional designer then you should brand yourself like one. This means connecting with other designers, getting to know their name and making sure they know yours. This doesn’t even have to be in person(but it certainly doesn’t hurt!). You can obviously attend meetups, conferences, and take part in learning courses to meet nearby designers out in the “real world”. But you’re in good company just by responding to designer’s tweets or leaving comments on their IG/Dribbble posts. Every industry is about who you know, some more than others but networking is always important. You never know who might send a client your way or who might recommend your name for an in-studio position. You should follow tons of designers on Twitter and like a few Facebook pages too. Drop comments, share tweets, interact with content to get your name into the design community. Since designers are mostly techies you’ll have an easier time connecting online. Here are some places you might join to network & share ideas:
- Designer News
If you’re willing to attend a conference just search Google for the latest conferences this year. You’ll find hundreds all around the world which act as meeting places for anyone you’d like to connect with. Nobody says networking is easy. But it’s a lot harder to live as a recluse with no connections to the design world. Spend some time building relationships, even if they’re small interactions with strangers. You never know when a small connection might lead to something more.
Write Awesome Content(if you’re willing)
Blogging isn’t just for sharing feelings anymore. It’s a business strategy for getting your ideas into the web and ideally ranking in Google. If you run an awesome blog on your website you can draw attention from people looking for tips, tricks, tutorials, suggestions, case studies… whatever! My favorite approach is the design case study. You create a unique project with a unique viewpoint and showcase exactly what you did on that project. This is cool for designers because they get to see your process and maybe learn a bit. It’s also really cool for employers or potential clients because they can see how you work in a step-by-step fashion. This sells yourself, your work, and your design services. Not everyone loves writing so it’s not reasonable for everyone. But just consider it and don’t shy away from the potential value you can offer the Internet. If you can build a name for yourself with great writing you can add that into your brand.
One great example is Val Head who has written dozens of articles on UI/UX animation. Her expertise is widely sought and she’s often hired as a consultant for interface animation work. If you don’t see yourself as a writer then don’t bother. It’s best to focus on how you want to brand yourself. Remember this is personal branding, so it’s always going to be a personal process. But launching a blog and making a name through your writing is a very plausible strategy to get yourself out there.
The term “brand” is nebulous and hard to define. It’s a culmination of many factors including your work, your personality, and how you present yourself to the world. I’ve tried to cover the aspects that I consider to be the most important for personal branding. Take this advice and merge it with your own goals to find the right branding strategy for you.