Putting Yourself Out There (On Social)
The habits of highly-successful designers on social media.
I consider myself a generalist, someone who’s knowledgeable of many things yet a master of none. It’s not one of my selling points, but it played a big part in motivating me to pursue an MFA degree in communication design. The past couple semesters I’ve spent a lot of time searching for a niche and discovering a design voice, while also still struggling to build a brand identity.
As part of a mobile and social media class, I was assigned to research the social media use of five different designers. I chose illustrators, graphic designers, letterers, children’s book illustrators, a paper engineer … all things I’m interested in.
- Alana Louise Lyons
- Lorraine Nam
- Tad Carpenter
- Katie Johnson of Katie Made That
- Brad Woodard of Brave the Woods
Initial similarities between my designers:
- Independence: All designers work independently in various stages of their careers, from freelancers to studio owners.
- Use of color
- Strong visual identity
Alana Louise Lyons
Designer, Illustrator, Austinite, Independent
Alma mater: SCAD
- Portfolio: Austin Beerworks, Helms Workshop, YETI
- Interests: Beer, Fishing, Outdoors, Tattoos
Alana Louise Lyons is down-to-earth, an outdoors enthusiast, and totally rocks her own brand. She mentioned to me that she doesn’t think she “necessarily has a brand.” I was surprised by her humble comment, because from an outside perspective she has such a strong identity. Alana’s Instagram account shows her interests and style, which I find completely admirable. Not only does she have extraordinary talent, her work reflects who she is and what she cares about. She may not have a branded logo or a website, but that doesn’t affect job opportunities. For one, she has 22,000 followers on Dribbble and has a curated-Instagram account that screams her identity as a designer (whether planned or not).
I use social media — Instagram, Pinterest, Behance, Dribbble — to find creative inspiration. The design community is welcoming and inclusive …. but social media can be a time suck and often leaves me feeling shitty about my own work. It’s also possible that I spend more time “researching” other people’s work instead of actually improving my own skills or putting my work out there.
On social media use, Alana said:
“I use social media not as a place to gain inspiration, rather as a source of sharing my work to a different audience.”
- Hashtags #graphicdesign, #findyourpark, #illustration
As a parent, full-time grad student, and a part-time freelancer I struggle with finding time for my hobbies. I wanted to know how Alana juggles hobbies, running her own business, and spending time with friends and family.
“I manage my time based on the projects I am working on, and do my best to allot time just to answer emails before focusing heads down on work. I also take at least one vacation with my husband each season and we go fishing together every week,” she said.
Katie Made That
Hand Letterer, Craft-epreneur, Independent
Alma Mater: The University of North Texas
Known For: Organic design, hand lettering, ornamentation
Katie Johnson was born and raised in Austin. She left to attend the University of North Texas and then returned to Austin. (Honestly, who can blame her.) Katie uses Pinterest, Instagram, Etsy, Behance, and Facebook to market her company, Katie Made That. Her website also features a design shop for selling prints and licensing work. Additionally, she does contract work for lettering, branding/identity, and custom wedding gigs.
Katie mentioned in an interview that Instagram has been the most successful platform for her.
“[Instagram] is such a visual platform and lends itself really well to sharing art — I’ve heard some people in my industry saying they rarely update their websites anymore because their Instagrams act as their portfolios now.”
Frequency: 2–4 times per week
Hashtags: #lettering, #typetopia, #katiemadethat, #typespot
Katie also uses Facebook to promote her company.
- 896 Following
- 170.6k monthly views
Austin is a design-heavy, creative mecca where many independent designers thrive. As an contract designer, I asked Katie how she balances her digital presence with actual face-to-face connections.
“Social media is really important for establishing your presence as a design leader in the industry, but in-person contact really helps you be seen as an active member of your community, which can build a lot of trust and deeper, longer relationships.” — Katie Johnson
Like the other designers in this article, Katie has a consistent look and feel and a strong brand identity. She offered this advice on finding a design style:
Look at the work of others constantly. Find what you love and dissect it to figure out what it is specifically that speaks to you. Look to design history and find the periods that interest you and study them! Read books and build a library of design resources. And then make things. A lot of things! The only way you or anyone else can know what your voice as a designer is is to see it through your work. The more you make, the more you see themes and patterns…the more you can decide what works and doesn’t, where you want to concentrate and what skills you want to hone! — Katie Made That
Illustrator, Studio Co-owner, Branding, Graphic Design, Adjunct Professor, Children’s Book Illustrator
Alma Mater: KU, where he also teaches design
Portfolio: KC Royals, PT’s Coffee, Sonic, Made in the Middle Conference
Known For: Color, Good Natured-ness, Illustration, Kansas City, Suns
Approach: Design brands and experiences that emotionally engage and connect with consumers. Design, strategy and innovation with a whimsical wink.
Tad Carpenter, and his wife Jessica, run Carpenter Collective, a brand and design agency in Kansas City, Missouri. Their company “strives to create brand experiences that emotionally engage and connect with consumers” using a strategic, honest and artistic approach.
I’ve been following Tad for a couple years on Instagram and Twitter. Some of Tad’s work includes Sonic, PT’s Coffee, as well as several children’s books. I buy picture books as much for myself as I do my children. As a parent, it’s rewarding to share beautiful illustration with my family while supporting talented artists.
“The fact that I can contribute, even in the smallest way to maybe inspiring a kid to wanna be a graphic designer… or an illustrator, or just art in general is a cool thing.” — Tad Carpenter on children’s books illustration
- Hashtags #SUNdaySUNS, #carpentercollective_work
- Frequency 2–3 times per week
- Tweets 11.9K
- Following 1,026
- Followers 18.4K
- Frequency: Daily
- Tweets About: Design nuggets, Humor, Self-Promotional, & #SUNdaySUNS
Brave the Woods (Brad Woodard)
Alma Mater: BYU-Idaho
Known For: Color, Illustration, Outdoors, Education
Clients: Target, Thinkery Austin, Baskin Robbins, Old Navy, Honda
Motto: To take chances, stay curious, and do what makes you happy.
Brad Woodard and his wife Krystal moved to Austin when they decided to start Brave the Woods, an illustration and graphic design studio with an impressive client list. The social media channels they use are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Dribbble. In 2017 the husband-and-wife team moved to Boise.
As an Austinite, who was born and raised in Boise, I have an appreciation for their work. I love Brave the Wood’s illustrative style, use of color, and the work they do with education.
“Our business goals coincide with our family goals. We focus on the type of work that is most fulfilling to us, which means we work for good causes, make children’s books, and work on educational and nature-related projects,” they said in an interview with The University of Texas at Austin.
Frequency 3–4 times per week
Only a couple designers in my pool used Facebook as a channel, however it makes sense for a studio to have a business page. Their page has roughly 2,000 likes and followers.
- Shots: 427
- Projects: 22
- Followers: 19,431
- Goods for sale: 28
- Tweets: 5,999
- Following: 1,300
- Followers: 3,055
- Frequency: 1–3 times per week
Illustrator, Paper Engineer, Paper Illustrator, Children’s Book Illustrator, Independent
Alma Mater: RISD
Clients: Country Living, Facebook,NBC
Lorraine’s brand: Color, Illustration, Paper,
I’m drawn to Lorraine’s work because of her bold, colorful design and attention to detail. She creates colorful scenes with paper, and often uses animated gifs and stop-motion video to animate her creations. She recently illustrated a book called Look Up with Me, featuring Neil Degrasse Tyson.
In an interview with Design Sponge, Lorraine said that she uses Instagram for inspiration. “A lot of my friends are artists and creatives and I love seeing what they’re creating and what they’re seeing. I also love the explore feature and finding new accounts that curate their view,” she said.
- Hashtags: #paperart, #illustration, #lookupwithme, #womenillustrators
- Frequency: 3–4 times per week
- Tweets: 1,432
- Following: 178
- Followers: 262
- Frequency: Daily
- Content: Self-Promotional, Design, Everyday life
This assignment was interesting as I learned that social media marketing is about quality, not quantity. The number of platforms you use doesn’t necessarily affect the outcome. As a designer, knowing which platform works best for you is the key.
Another nugget is that social media isn’t like the Wizard of Oz…don’t be the (wo)man behind the curtain. Despite being “online” social media should still have a face and a voice digitally and in life. These five designers all have a strong online presence, but they spend time face-to-face within their community.
Make. Make. Make and then make some more.
Parting Words of Wisdom:
Freelance is not for everyone! Also, don’t be an asshole. People don’t like working with assholes. — Alana Louise Lyons
If you don’t love it, don’t do it. Plain and simple. — Tad Carpenter
Don’t feel like you have to choose one avenue of design right off the bat. Take time to explore everything that interests you. Over time you will
start to see what you gravitate towards, and sometimes it isn’t a single path.— Brave the Woods
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are: Passion, business sense, persistence. A good peer group who supports you doesn’t hurt either! — Lorraine Nam
Show up, be authentic, and avoid the sales pitches.— Katie Made That