Personal Branding for Designers

Stand out in the crowd by building a strong professional identity

Personal Branding for Designers

Image by Niki Tisza

Being brilliant but anonymous.

Perhaps we can all agree it’s not good being the best-kept secret in the world.

Online presence as a personal brand

Do you have some kind of presence online? Such as

  • Website or blog
  • Newsletter
  • Podcast
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • TikTok
  • LinkedIn

If so, then you already have a personal brand.

The question is: what does your personal brand say about you to other people?

Whenever someone visits your social media profiles or your website or meets you in person, they form an opinion about you.

When I say

I’ve been a product design leader for over 10 years across companies like

  • Medxnote, which is an Irish healthcare startup
  • a big tech giant Oracle
  • one of the Big Fours PwC

As well as I also consulted for the New Zealand Government.

And on the side, I teach and mentor designers.

With a preface like that, I introduce my personal brand to people.

Personal branding can help you with the following

  • Starting a freelancing business
  • Winning more clients for your business
  • Selling yourself and your service better
  • Landing a new job
  • Building your reputation in the industry, in a niche
  • Becoming known for your knowledge

What is not personal branding?

Personal branding has a bad reputation.

Because a lot of people think of personal branding as shouting into the void. Shouting about yourself and your accomplishments.

Image by Niki Tisza

And because we don’t have a lot of in-person interaction nowadays, we take it online.

We use the internet to talk about ourselves constantly and loudly.

Maybe we tweet about ourselves, we share links to our design work, we create TikToks.

But we don’t really engage in conversation or add value to topics.

Nowadays, it’s really easy to schedule a social media post on social media and talk about our work.

Please note that when I say work, I mean all of the design-related creations you produce. Not only the ‘work work’ you do in your 9–5 but also the work you do outside of work, e.g. participating in the daily UI challenge and sharing the design on Instagram.

If you do this strategy, and only this strategy, that’s only going to get you so far.

If it’s you, that’s ok.

I was guilty of this as well.

But in this article, I’m not advocating for this.

Instead, I want to encourage you to do a less shouty personal branding.

What is exactly personal branding?

Personal branding can mean different things to everyone.

Here’s what Jeff Bezos thinks personal branding is:

Image by Niki Tisza

It’s the thing people say about you when you’re not in the room.

That’s your personal brand.

That’s your reputation.

Expanding on what Jeff Bezos says, for me, personal branding is

  • The way I articulate my thoughts
  • My ability to impact others
  • My origin story (how I got into this field)
  • My beliefs, views, and what I stand for
  • How I embrace vulnerability when needed

I hope it’s clear that personal branding is not about fame and it’s not about talking about ourselves.

Personal branding is about building a reputation in a niche.

It’s important because it’s going to help you

  • Differentiate yourself
  • Build credibility in the industry, and
  • Establish relationships with your audience (with likeminded people who care about the things you care about)

My first experience with personal branding

2013, was the year when I was exposed to personal branding for the very first time.

I created a Twitter account in 2010 but didn’t use it for a few years.

But in 2013, when I was finishing my postgrad in design, I started tweeting.

It was the end of 2013 when I was applying for my 2nd design job, still as a fairly inexperienced UX designer.

After being hired, I was told my online presence was a huge differentiator.

There were more qualified candidates than me.

Speaking way better English than what I was speaking at the time.

But my social media presence showed a true passion for the craft, for design.

My Twitter was a differentiator.

The reason why I’m telling you this is because I wanted to show you I’ve been building my personal brand since 2013, without knowing it.

Twitter screenshots from 2013 — image by Niki Tisza

You can see, I only started using Twitter as a link collection. I also used Behance to showcase my design process. I shared things about industry events I attended, e.g. WebSummit in Dublin. I shared some details about my work with Medxnote, the startup I was working with.

Then slowly, people started following me.

I built up a reputation as someone who shares useful links and resources on web design & web development-related topics.

Back then, the available resources were way more scarce, unlike nowadays.

We didn’t have a Figma community library with thousands of free, well-made resources.

So it was a big deal.

That’s when my relationship with personal branding started.

But I only became intentional about it a couple of years ago.

Twitter screenshots from 2022 & 2023 — image by Niki Tisza

We’ve all been building our personal brand, whether you know it or not.

So, why not be intentional about it?

I hope you can see that personal branding is not about being famous.

It’s not about likes and hearts and retweets and follower count. Not at all.

It’s about providing value in a niche.

It’s about engaging with your audience.

It’s about lifting other people up in the community.

Twitter screenshots from 2023 — image by Niki Tisza

I believe these people do valuable work in the community, and I want others to learn from them.

I want to encourage you to do more intentional and value-driven personal branding.

How to be intentional about personal branding?

The answer is: by crafting your vision statement.

Because we can only successfully build our personal brand if we are intentional about it.

But how do we do this?

Well, we need to follow a 3-steps plan:

  1. You need to know where you’re at.
  2. You need to know where you’re going.
  3. Take action.

Let’s dive deeper into each step.

Step #1 Current state analysis

You need to know where you’re at.

You need to evaluate

  • Your portfolio
  • Your current brand
  • Your online presence
  • What you project online via social media

Then you need to ask for feedback. Ask what others think about your online presence. What do they think when they see your portfolio, your social media feed, etc.

Vision statement step #1 — image by Niki Tisza

Step #2 Vision state

You need to know where you’re going, and where you want to be.

This is the step when you create your vision statement by being super clear about where you’re going.

Pro tip

  • Be specific
  • Don’t try to be everything
  • Remember the season of career: you can be anything, but not at the same time.

I give you a few prompts you should think about when crafting your personal branding vision statement. Think about the followings:

  • What do you want to be known for?
  • What do you want people to say when they look at your portfolio?
  • What do you want people to say about you when you’re not in the room?
  • What do you want to convey through all of your social media channels and in person when you meet people?

You need to be clear on these. You need to be specific. You need to specialize.

  • What skills do you want to showcase online?

For example:

UX design: visual design, prototyping, design research, illustration, design system, data analysis, coding, sketching, writing, facilitation, presentation skills, web design, branding, logo design, strategy, etc.

Don’t just say I want to be a product designer.

What kind of product designer do you want to be?

Someone who’s really strong on the visual side, UX side, or research side?

Is there anything else you want to be known for?

Are you the kind of visual designer who also illustrates on the side? Is it something you want to be known for, or you rather keep illustration a hobby?

Be clear and specific.

The skills you pick will be the ones you’ll convey online. That will be your focus.

You can focus on a few skills for now, and if your interests and vision statement change, you can shift your focus.

  • What kind of traits do you want to project to the world?

For instance: friendly, kind, unbiased, decisive, easygoing, calm, fun, hard-working, punctual, communicative, bubbly, professional, authentic, vulnerable, leader, helpful, witty, smart, decisive, analytical, well-spoken, articulate, etc.

Again, just pick a few.

Vision statement step #2 — image by Niki Tisza

I’ll show you what my vision statement looked like from a couple of years ago:

Vision statement example — image by Niki Tisza

Just because I’m a product designer, it doesn’t mean I do every kind of design work.

For example, I’m not a person who does brand design.

I don’t design logos.

I did design logos in the past, but not anymore.

It’s freeing to say no to design requests & projects that don’t fit into my vision statement.

I defined my vision statement and decided logo design was not going to be in my repertoire.

It’s not like I can’t do it, but I don’t want to focus on it.

I don’t want to hone my skills to be a better logo designer than I am right now. And that’s ok.

Your vision statement will be unique to you.

Here’s a template you can use.

I want to be known as/for __________________________________________

Who specializes in ______________, _______________, and ______________

Who’s ___________, ____________, ______________, and ____________.

Vision statement template — image by Niki Tisza
  • First line: you pick your specialty
  • Second line: list your skills
  • Third line: list your traits & characteristics

After reading this article, take some time to come up with your vision statement.

Step#3 Start building your personal brand by taking action

Once you’re clear on your vision, you need to decide what and where you’re going to create.

Take into account the following

  • Your strengths
  • What you want to create
  • What you’re able to create (constraints: time, skillset)
  • Which platform is the best for you
  • What consistency looks like to you

Remember sustainability over consistency!

Vision statement step #3 — image by Niki Tisza

Based on these, decide which output and platform would work the best for you and what you’re excited about doing for a prolonged time.

Your vision statement will help you with the decision.

Where should you create and build your personal brand?

The short answer is: anywhere with an existing audience.

One of the biggest mistakes people make at the beginning of their online personal branding journey is that they start a blog.

Just a blog.

A blog that is professionally designed (by you), organized, and you own it. We all heard that we must own our own creations, right?

But there’s a problem.

No one knows your blog exists.

Do you remember the first sentence of the article?

Being brilliant but anonymous?

Countless blogs are floating around on the internet.

You write an article or post a video on your blog, but there’s no audience.

No one is reading your article; nobody’s watching your video.

It’s discouraging.

It’s disheartening.

It’s disappointing.

This is how most people try to build their personal brand.

A lot of time is invested in something that no one sees. Then after a few posts, they give up because there’s no audience. Because what’s the point?

Google Search is massive.

There are millions of results in Google Search.

Due to the lack of evidence that people should care about your new blog, Google won’t display it to people.

Social platforms, however, allow you to share your content with an audience that shares your interests.

It doesn’t matter how many followers you have.

You can have 0 followers; the algorithm will notice whether or not people engage with your content. If they do, your content will be served up to more people. People who are interested in the type of content you create. This is how algorithms on social media work.

Another mistake people make is not creating native content for the platform.

They share the link to their articles, their work, and their design on social media. Just a link.

For example, I write on Medium and share my articles on Twitter.

The problem with that is when I share my Medium article on Twitter; I essentially invite my Twitter audience to leave the platform.

But they are not going to do it.

There’s a tiny percentage who I might be able to convince to leave their beloved cozy platform and join me in a different one to read or watch my content elsewhere.

Creating natively is always a good idea.

Instead of simply sharing your Medium article on Twitter and encouraging readers to leave the platform, you should create a Twitter thread based on the Medium content.

In your last tweet in the thread, add the link to your Medium article so people know you’re writing elsewhere.

But don’t just share your article’s URL.

When it comes to building a personal brand, the biggest mistake people can make is not using any kind of social media.

I’d like to encourage you to create in social environments.

The best place to create is anywhere with  an existing audience.

Choose your poison

Choosing the right format that works for you is a crucial step.

Let’s take a look at the options.

  • Writing: Twitter. Quora. Medium. LinkedIn. Substack. Mastodon. Start your own newsletter.
  • Audio: Podcast (Anchor, Substack, Red Circle). Post it on all platforms, such as Apple, Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, Deezer, PlayerFM, Listen App, Google Podcasts). There is no discoverability function with audio, so don’t get discouraged. It’s possibly the hardest medium to build your audience on.
  • Video: YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest (faceless videos with a voiceover could be options too)
  • Visual: Instagram, Twitter (a tweet with a picture does better than a tweet without a picture, in general), TikTok, Pinterest, Behance, Dribbble
Format options — image by Niki Tisza

Pro tip: keep a backup of all your videos, audios, and writings.

Although these social sites are great, you don’t actually own the creations; you’re just leveraging the platform’s existing audience.

If YouTube goes down tomorrow for whatever reason, I have everything backed up.

Choose whatever shows your strengths.

For instance, you shouldn’t choose video content if you are extremely uncomfortable on camera.

Make sure you choose a platform where you don’t have to force yourself to create content.

Something that comes easily for you.

A platform that you are excited about every time.

Why create?

You might have heard the term, creator economy.

All the content creators out there who make videos, podcasts, articles, or visual posts are referred to as creators.

It’s a boom time for the creator economy.

Every week, it grows bigger and bigger.

The internet has never been a more exciting place to be a creator.

It’s never been easier to start creating online and never been harder to grow.

Make sure you focus on the creation aspect of it rather than the number of followers.

Why create now?

In today’s job market, applying for jobs with your resume and portfolio is no longer enough.

Don’t create to impress.

Create for fun.

Create to educate.

Create for enjoyment.

Create for personal branding.

Create because you’re excited about creating.

Create to grow professionally.

Create to grow as a design practitioner.

Create to grow in your ability to share your design knowledge.

So that when you leave the room, people talk about your articles, videos, or podcast.

It’s well known that social media can have a negative impact on people’s mental health.

I don’t advocate being obsessed with content creation. No, not at all. I want to be clear on that.

If we look at how things are now, imagine where artificial intelligence will be five years from now.

Because of AI, building your brand is even more important.

You need to differentiate yourself from others somehow.

The best portfolio and resume aren’t going to cut it in a few years.

You need a differentiator.

You need a personal brand.

When one teaches, two learn

Image by Niki Tisza

This quote is one of my favourites. And this is the most important reason why I love creating online.

Along with helping others, providing value, and giving back to the design community, what I love most about creating online is learning.

I learn so much when I write scripts and record videos.

I like to see how much I’ve grown since I began my online journey.

My online presence has led to so many opportunities that I can’t even begin to count them all.

It certainly makes getting a new job much easier.

To sum up

In today’s job market, personal branding is essential for designers.

It helps you stand out in a competitive market, attract more freelancing clients, and have more job opportunities.

Craft your vision statement and act accordingly.

If you’re in doubt about posting something, take a look at your vision statement. It’ll act as a guide.

You should ask yourself this question whenever you share things online: does this image, comment, article, or video actually reflect my vision of who I want to be?

If yes, post it. If not, drop it.

Decide what you want to be known for.

Then, start creating.

Start small.

Just start!

This article is the written version of my YouTube video and the basis of the talk I gave on 19th of Jan 2023, in Toronto, Canada.