Instagram lends itself well to the visual landscape, and as both the platform and its users have developed, we’ve noticed a shift and variation in the types of visuals that are posted. In short, this ranges from traditional photography to new media like GIFS, illustration, and video. This evolution has presented brands with opportunities to get creative in how they engage with their followers. From copy- heavy “quote” posts or event posters to the use of branded illustration, brands have started to break up their Instagram feeds from the usual static content to include more graphic imagery. Today’s article dives deeper into this and explores why this makes sense for particular brands as well as highlights a few brands who have recognizable graphic design and illustration on their feed. This piece also includes insights from two leading graphic designers who touch on the importance of why (and how) they create social media-friendly design content.
The Benefits of Using Graphic Design in Social Media Content
Integrating graphic design and illustration into one’s social media creative can seem daunting. For one thing, not all brands may have the tools or budget required to create these kinds of assets. However, as we look towards 2019, here are a few things to consider when crafting your social media plans for the new year (and why integrating graphic design can take your social content to the next level).
Design Can Educate and Empower Your Followers
In a world where we’re inundated with selfies, #OOTDs, and waves of lifestyle imagery, graphic design or illustration can provide a nice respite from many of the current photo trends. Aside from being used as a sales tool, and depending on the nature of your business, graphic design content can also educate and empower your followers to understand more about/stand behind your brand. For instance, look at our friends at Ellevest (@ellevest).
Since our original PLANOLEADER interview with the brand’s social media manager Alexandra Ramirez, we’ve followed her team’s efforts closely and have been in admiration of Ellevest’s dynamic yet consistent Instagram content. And a big part of what has made that so recognizable is Ellevest’s use of graphic design. Aesthetically, the design elements continue to remain close to the brand color family of deep greens, teals, and turquoises along with the consistent use of the same typeface. Aside from the “quote” posts (which often feature inspiring tidbits from well-known women or include sound bites from Ellevest’s founder Sallie Krawcheck), the team has also used graphic design to engage with the community by posing questions or sharing statistics that help get conversations going. Given that Ellevest has such a specific brand voice and mission, they are a perfect example of showing how graphic design can capture (and retain) followers in a way that is not only visually pleasing but adds value to the overall brand experience.
Design Can Breathe New Life into Your Social Content
While a picture is worth a thousand words, design can add much more in that it brings an unexpected element to the table. This is especially true for legacy brands, as many of them have adapted to the demands of providing their followers with content that is fresh but on-brand. Let’s look at Tiffany & Co. (@tiffanyandco), who is a more recent example of a brand that is building upon their iconic story in a new way.
We all know that Tiffany is loved for its sophisticated, elegant, and timeless aesthetic — not to mention it’s quintessential “blue box.” But as attention has shifted to social media, Tiffany has kept their finger on the pulse of what’s current and has found a way to appeal to younger consumers without entirely alienating their existing customer base. Look at their recent campaign with Elle Fanning. The brand unveiled a dynamic social media and experiential marketing plan around the campaign that ultimately led to more fresh content. Speaking specifically to their Instagram account, the content around the campaign included stills from the video and photo-shoot treated with light graphic elements to enhance what was otherwise “classic” Tiffany & Co. imagery. Aside from this campaign, the brand has also leaned into this idea of marrying the old and new with more contemporary graphics and motion design elements for other initiatives that engage its followers to mix up their classic style. This approach demonstrates the brand’s digital awareness and understanding that social media landscape provides more opportunities to diversify one’s visual storytelling.
“Graphic design content
can educate & empower
your followers to understand
more about your brand.”
Design Can Be Ownable and Eye-Catching
Finally, when assessing the value that graphic design can bring to the table, it’s worth noting that you can use graphic imagery to create an aesthetic that’s truly ownable to your brand. Whether that be through the use of color palettes or fonts, these small details can make a big impact in creating social media content that is truly eye-catching. An excellent example of a brand that has done this is Headspace (@headspace).
Visually speaking, the meditation/mindfulness app has become known for its signature orange dot (which also inspired the brand’s blog name as well)! If you look at Headspace’s Instagram, it’s clear to see that they’ve also fully embraced graphic design as a core element of their visual content. What’s interesting about their approach is that in addition to their series of “Mindful Moment” quotes and reminders (like their “Breathe In” post), many of the graphic illustrations feature little creatures that almost serve as characters/mascots of the brand. While there’s no one lead “character,” the inclusion of these characters (and consistency within color palette and composition) helps to create both a visual and brand narrative that is recognizable to Headspace. As such, they prove that there is a great value when investing in design to create social media content that not only is meant to sell someone on a service but literally brighten up their day (and of course, their Instagram feed).
With the previously mentioned examples in mind, we turned to our community to speak with a couple of industry-leading designers (one of whom is on our team)! Read on to discover insights and tips from PLANOLY’s own graphic designer Cristina Martinez, and Elliot Salazar, the talented Senior Designer at Refinery29.
Elliot Salazar, Refinery29
Howdy, my name is Elliot Salazar, and I’m a Senior Designer at Refinery29, where I oversee the design for Refinery29’s social media channels – including Instagram. If you’ve liked, double tapped, or retweeted a post on any of Refinery29’s social feeds then you’ve probably seen some of my work!
Originally from Texas, I studied Design in my undergrad and later received my MFA in Design from the School of Visuals Arts in NYC. I feel that my relationship to design has always been rooted in some way to internet/popular culture, so working in social media has been the perfect outlet for me to tap into what I’m personally finding fun and exciting, like astrology memes (I’m an Aquarius/Cancer/Gemini FYI) and create some cool visuals.
On Refinery29’s Visual Evolution:
Before working with the Social Team at Refinery29, I was part of the Editorial Design team and worked mostly on illustrations for articles on our website. The great thing about Refinery29 is that our creative teams continuously strive to push our visual brand forward — whether through photography, illustration, or design. I feel that our Instagram has a great balance of photography and design and my role has helped reinforce a strong design perspective and incorporate a larger creative community of designers and illustrators into the work that we do.
I feel that visual design works well on social because it allows anyone to create content with a truly unique and special point of view. On Instagram specifically, design and illustrations really stand out among all the photography and offer our followers a fresh take on current topics and events. A great example of this is the work of Ashley Lukashevsky or @ashlukadraws — our team has collaborated with Ashley on a few projects for important social issues including birth control and Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
An Example of How Elliot’s Work Has Elevated the Refinery29 Graphic Design Aesthetic:
#R29Collabs is what I think is the PERFECT example of Refinery29’s commitment to design and collaborating with diverse groups of creatives from around the world to create visuals that represent the Refinery29 brand, mission, and design aesthetic! Another of my favorite illustrators on Instagram (and in person!) is Amber Vittoria, @ambervittoria, because her illustration style focuses on the portrayal of women within art and her work has been adapted from illustrations to clothing, shoes and other products.
As for the Refinery29 design pillars and guidelines, I think our focus on design and illustration has only gotten stronger as we see our audience really relate to and engage more with these visuals. The mission of Refinery29 is to be a catalyst for women to see, feel, and claim their power and our social presence is the visual representation of this mission — all in the palm of your hand.
Elliot’s Advice for Creating Graphic Design that is Social Media Friendly:
My one tip to help designers or anyone looking to create visual designs for social media would be to create with meaning and purpose and ultimately not to be afraid to try whatever crazy new idea you might have!
Cristina Martinez, Graphic Designer at PLANOLY
My name is Cristina Martinez; I live in Madison, WI with my husband and our two cats and I’m the graphic designer at PLANOLY. I think I’ve always been drawn to design, but I honestly didn’t know that it would be so closely entwined with my career. As an undergraduate student at the University of Mary Washington, I found myself wanting to learn more about graphic design, so I purchased a few books, and when I wasn’t studying for school, I tried to learn as much as I could about how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, and even Lightroom. By the time I graduated from school, I had put together a portfolio that showcased fictitious design projects I had created as well as a few projects I had worked on without any kind of payment so that I could gain the experience of what it was like to create designs for someone else.
Right before I graduated school, I ended up creating an Instagram account for my blog. I wasn’t entirely sure of the purpose of Instagram at that time, so I just posted a few photos of the city where I was living, where I was working, as well as some of my illustrations and hand-lettering. Within a few months, I was receiving inquiries from people who wanted to book me for branding and illustrations projects, and I ended up freelancing full-time shortly after graduating.
Social media (Instagram in particular) has been a great tool to market myself to the kind of clients I would want to work with. It’s also been an amazing way to connect with fellow designers, illustrators, and creatives.
Planoly’s Social Media and Visual Evolution:
Since the beginning, PLANOLY has always been very thoughtful and purposeful regarding any visual content. In the past year, I think we’ve made some changes regarding our design style that really seem to resonate with our community. We’ve really tried to emphasize focusing on creating visual content that is unique but still on brand.
I believe that graphic design meshes incredibly well with Instagram content simply because the entire platform heavily relies on imagery. The success of your feed is dependent on the quality of the content you’re creating and posting. If your account isn’t creating visually compelling content by the use of photographs, graphics, or illustrations, then it’s going to show. This is also incredibly important for not only tech/social media companies like ours, but any business as our feed is an extension of our brand.
How Graphic Design on Social Media has Educated Planoly Users:
PLANOLY was designed from a designer’s and an editor’s perspective, so there was a significant amount of thought that went into the design and functionality of our app. Outside of our app, we’ve really tried to visually highlight key features from our app that we want current and future users to learn more about by creating content that’s not only visually appealing but informative. For example, we often create tutorials for our feed that visually walk our followers through how to utilize or get the most out of a specific feature.
Planoly’s Design Pillars:
As we’ve grown our own brand’s social presence, we’ve made efforts to purposely define our brand’s core aesthetics. From our brand’s color palette, down to the font’s we utilize, we’ve worked hard on keeping our brand consistent and visually cohesive. This year, we did work on a mini re-brand which essentially means that we made some minor but important changes to our branding and our graphic design strategy. The changes were subtle as we did not want to stray too far from our original branding, but these small changes helped us refine our design style.
Cristina’s Advice for Creating Design that is Social Media Friendly:
- Make sure what you’re posting is relevant by paying attention to the story or narrative you’re trying to communicate to your target audience. It’s important also to make sure that all of the content you create or share on your feed relates to your brand’s overall goal.
- Stay true to your brand. When it comes to creating visual content being consistent is essential especially for brands/companies. It’s important to have a visual strategy in place for all of the graphics you produce. I always recommend working with a designer to define your brand’s visual identity, since a designer will assist you in selecting a font and color palette to keep your brand consistent and cohesive.
- And finally, I’ve always believed in the saying “less is more.” Simplicity is truly underrated, especially considering how crucial it is in design. When you’re creating any kind of visual content you always want to make sure it’s easy to read if it includes any type or hand-lettering, and that it’s not visually overwhelming.