What can people working in the design industry learn from the world of personal branding?

Date
Written by
Danielle Antoinette Bowman
Illustration by
FormPlayStudio

Danielle Antoinette Bowman is Co-Founder and CMO at design and product recruitment company Found By Few. Here she explores how personal branding can be a useful tool for all those working in the design industry. Danielle argues that identifying your authentic opinion and the right platform for sharing it can help you grow your professional profile and fulfil your career objectives – making the industry a more inclusive space in the process.

People-first content

I’ve spent most of the last decade helping founders and CEOs create their own ‘personal brands’. For me, the term ‘personal branding’ is really all about how you use your own platform to further your professional goals and personal values. In the early days of social media, business content was produced via company pages but the adage ‘people buy from people, not businesses’ proved as true on social media as it does in real life. As such, people now use their own personal pages (LinkedIn, Instagram, Tiktok) to produce far-reaching and impactful content that both further themselves and their business interests.

This concept is not new. ‘Personal branding’ is just an extension of what was known as profile building which, before the rise of LinkedIn, was mostly done by traditional means like promotional videos, award entries, speaking engagements, magazine or editorial features and TV appearances (not an easy endeavour). The process of getting noticed or building influence would involve a lot of time, money and a team of copywriters and content producers behind the scenes pulling everything together. Whereas a successful entrepreneur can now knock up a LinkedIn post on their commute into the office and reach millions by midday if it goes viral.

Democratising the space

As with much of online life these days, the critique often aimed at those who establish a ‘personal brand’ is that they are superficial and/or virtue signalling. However, even the biggest haters cannot deny they have humanised a once bland social media platform like LinkedIn and created space for entrepreneurs to be seen and heard without having to spend millions on marketing budgets. Going further, they have also created a space where traditional business views on issues from gender and race, to accepted working practices, can be challenged and improved.

Towards a more inclusive design industry

If we think of two of the biggest challenges facing the design community right now; how do companies hire and retain design talent at the same as making design roles more accessible to all – personal branding can help solve both. Why? Because a business owner or design manager who openly contributes to the conversation around improving working practices will garner a following that will view them as an understanding employer and that will inevitably help them attract design talent. Equally, a design leader who is not scared to wade in on wider societal issues (with authenticity) will have a greater chance of reaching a wider audience and building a more diverse team.

Personal branding examples we can learn from

Steven Bartlett is the go-to example of success when it comes to building a personal brand but there are many design leaders who have built great personal brands. Max Ottignon, Co-founder of Ragged Edge and Simon Dixon, Co-Founder of Dixon Baxi, both have amassed strong followings and respect within the design community from sharing their thoughts openly on social media.


But you do not need to be a founder to create a strong personal brand, Candi Williams, the Head of Content Design at Bumble does a fantastic job of building the credibility of both her employer and her own talents through insightful and engaging posts. One can also lead to the other. Take Zander Whitehurst, CEO and Founder of Memorisely, for example. Zander started out creating awesome design tutorials teaching people how to use features in Figma and has now amassed a following of 90,000 on LinkedIn and nearly a whopping 400k on Instagram.

Personal branding can help nurture self-belief

Personal branding has unlocked opportunities within my own career and company (Found By Few) that I never thought possible. It has led to partnerships with companies like LinkedIn and JustEat, to attracting amazing talent for our own team and for our clients. It has helped me connect and build relationships with people around the world that share the same passion for belonging and inclusion as me. The world of business can feel like a very exclusive space and building a personal brand has allowed me to have a voice. When I’ve gone through my down moments, as all founders do, it’s allowed me to believe in myself again. That doesn’t mean that creating a personal brand is not without its toll. I'm still struggling to get over the anxiety that comes with posting publicly. It’s also more challenging than people think to create consistent authentic content without getting wrapped up in trying to emulate what everyone else is doing.

Focus on your personal passions and beliefs

My advice to anyone in the design industry struggling to articulate their value or find their audience would be to start small. Zoom in on what you believe in, are passionate about and how that could help people. When trying to articulate your message always have in mind the following:

  1. Who am I speaking to and why?
  2. Am I adding value or prompting a conversation?
  3. What are the caveats to my point and can I address them?

Follow and connect with Danielle here. Check out Found By Few on Instagram and LinkedIn.


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