This week’s content was on employability and the basics of ‘personal branding in the context of establishing ourselves as creative professionals. We also touched on ‘The Unity Principle’ which brands use to create community. This week prompted me to reflect on how and where I present my personal brand as a professional and how I’d like to go about this as I develop my career in UX Design.
My thoughts on personal branding
Whether we’re freelancing or working for an organisation, as designers we’re part of an increasingly competitive career landscape where we’ll often win work based on the merits of our personal branding. I see building a personal brand as an extension of our creative work. I currently rely on the brand of my business to bring in work, and have preferred it this way until now. However putting together my portfolio when applying for my Masters prompted me to begin my personal branding journey as an individual professional.
Curating the projects that I feel define me as a designer was a chance to reflect on my identity as a creative. I can see that my best work has come from clients who get me involved right from the ideation stage, I like to play a part in big-picture strategy. I also see that the projects I’m excited about are the ones which align with my values, in the areas of community building sustainability and wellbeing. I’d like to show my ideation & research processes in future projects so that I can show how importance of the process and thinking behind my work, communicating this is something I aim to improve on my UXD masters journey.
I create brands in my day-to-day job, often these are personal brands for solo entrepreneurs, and I feel confident supporting them to piece together an engaging, exciting vision and aesthetic. But for me? I’d rather let it emerge over time, through my portfolio, my writing and personal projects. I don’t feel the need to put pressure on myself to add ‘create brand Olivia’ to my to-do list or keep up appearances on Instagram, as I already do this for my creative studio, which inevitably plays a part in my own personal branding.
Recently I’ve had conversations with some small business peers about the pressure to be ‘an entertainer as well as a visual creator’. (Maye.2021) We’re seeing more and more creatives comment on their struggle to maintain a personal brand alongside business demands, among concerns of work disappearing due to the Instagram algorithm. (Tait.2021)
Whilst we depend on wide reaching platforms such as Instagram for our personal or professional brand to be seen by the right people, we’re at the mercy of the decisions made by big tech’s commercial interests. I know that I need to extend my personal branding beyond these networks, and am in the process of adding my portfolio to Behance and my writing to Medium with a focus on my professional design work & academic writing.
New online landscapes
Since exploring niche online spaces in Communities of Practice I’ve also been exploring the rise of micro social media networks as a chance to connect with like-minded networks and expand my online presence beyond the usual platforms. In the 1995 book ‘Life on the Screen’ Turkle stated that “Digital spaces allow increased open communication through the eradication of real world boundaries, such as appearance (e.g., race, gender), physical ability, and socioeconomic status”. (Turkle, 1995) I see that 16 years later we’re also experiencing the reverse of this statement. Distrust in big tech means that people are turning to micro social platforms or ‘digital campfires’ where they feel like they can really be themselves, no filter, less trolling. In a 2019 survey, nearly two thirds of the 1,000 people polled said that talking in smaller online groups means they can “share more openly.” (ZAK.2021) Niche social media spaces which unite people based on their identity & interests are emerging, such as Somewhere Good which was designed by and for BIPOC youth and Cocoon which is designed for ‘close-knit groups’. We’re seeing a shift to smaller, more private alternatives to Facebook where people connect based on shared identity, creating a connection that is deeper than surface level.
This trend relates to Ciadini’s Unity Principle, which is essentially the idea of making people feel like they belong, creating a shared identity, one of his ‘7 principles of persuasion’ marketing methodology. Brands already have their eyes on these more intimate social spaces. Consumer trend consultancy LSN Global featured a Macro Trend titled ‘Feedback Frontiers’ which charts the rise of “circular and conversational, brands who are treating every micro-interaction as a valuable opportunity to lean in, learn and improve their model.” (Hawkins & Stott. 2020) Brands are seeing the value in moving towards more personal, close communication platforms as they realise that consumer interactions are a privilege and a chance to learn. I view this as big brands striving to mimic the feeling that you get when you interact with a small business, like you’re part of a community with shared values, or even a cult as Birkett refers to the Crossfit community in his article. (Birkett.2016)
Reflections on week 11
By definition ‘personal branding’ is the way we choose to present ourselves to the world, whether we keep it strictly ‘professional’ or let our personal life overlap depends on our preference and ways of working. It should stay flexible and open, as we learn, grow we add to our brand repertoire. I know from experience that current clients come to my creative studio as they feel like they know my business partner and I, they’ve been following our journey and appreciate our personal, down-to-earth style which is reflected in our collaborative project processes. I know that I would much rather work with a client who I appreciate as a human being and believe in their project than do a job just because it looks good in my portfolio. The best work comes from compelling ideas: ‘good ideas spring from inspirational briefs’ (Macdonald.2014) – or inspirational people.
So when I consider my own personal branding, I see it as being guided my my values and my personality and I see niche communities of practice and social media spaces as optimal opportunities to form connections based on common interests & world-views.
I have a sense of confidence that my personal brand will emerge, that I’m building away, even now as I type. So far the 11 weeks of Masters has sparked me to update and expand my portfolio, research areas of interest, join professional communities and express my opinion in long-form, all of which I can feel is contributing towards developing my personal, professional voice.
Accountable Tech. 2020. ‘New Polling Highlights America’s Views on Big Tech, Facebook Boycott, Mark Zuckerberg’. Accountable Tech [online]. Available at: https://accountabletech.org/media/polling. [accessed 9th August 2021].
BIRKETT, Alex. 2016. ‘Cialdini’s 7th Persuasion Principle: Using Unity in Online Marketing’. CXL [online]. Available at: https://cxl.com/blog/cialdini-unity. [accessed 9th August 2021].
COCOON. Available at: https://cocoon.com/about. [accessed 9th August 2021].
MACDONALD, Iain. 2014. ‘Cultural Change In The Creative Industries: a Case Study of BBC Graphic Design from 1990 – 2011’. Sage Journals. Available online: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/epub/10.1177/1470357213507510. [accessed 9th August 2021].
MAYE, Kei [presenter]. 2021. ‘I’m a Visual Creator, I Don’t Want to be An Entertainer’. Creative Champs [online]. July 12th 2021. Available at: https://open.spotify.com/episode/4kbt9JFrPtMpE3gTJAUEZN. [accessed 9th August 2021].
HAWKINS, Alex & STOTT, Rachel. 2020. ‘Feedback Frontiers’. LSN Global [online]. Available at: https://www-lsnglobal-com.eu1.proxy.openathens.net/macro-trends/article/25449/feedback-frontiers. [accessed 9th July 2021].
SOMEWHERE GOOD. Available at: https://www.somewheregood.com. [accessed 9th August 2021].
TAIT, Amelia. 2021. ‘Why Instagram’s Creatives are Angry About It’s Move to Video’. The Guardian [online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/aug/08/instagram-artists-leaving-social-media-tiktok-shopping. [accessed 10th August 2021].
TURKLE, Sherry. 1995. Life on the Screen. New York: Simon & Schulster Paperbacks. Available through Google Books
Fig 1: Featured image. Illustration created by author. 2021.