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Creative: Apply Design Thinking to Your Social Media Presence

One of my favourite quotes that helps me think about how to apply design thinking and processes is by Charles Eames. He and his wife Ray Eames created those plastic chairs that are stacked at the back of school halls all around the world.

Design is a plan for arranging elements in a way that best accomplishes a particular purpose

Charles Eames

What the quote tells me is that anything can be designed, you only need to understand the core purpose and the elements at your disposal.

I like Jobs To Be Done theory, by Clayton Christianson of Harvard Business School, as a way of identifying the core purpose. It is best to focus on one Job To Be Done for any item as simplicity reduces frustration for your end user.

For creating ideas to arrange the elements in a way that accomplishes the purpose, I like the design thinking process. It allows me to start with everything then gradually whittle that down into a few good ideas. It’s best to have about 5 people working from diverse perspectives work through a full design thinking process, but it can also be used a mental process to avoid creative bias.

The design thinking process

This process has six key stages:

  1. Frame the question
  2. Seek inspiration
  3. Have lots of ideas
  4. Create prototypes
  5. Test your prototypes
  6. Iteratively improve your idea

Our question

How might I improve my social media presence?

Frame the question

There are a few tools for breaking down a big nebulous question like this into sub-questions. I love a good challenge map. You start with your core question and you ask “Why do I want to do that?” and go outwards from that like a mind map. Here is one I did for our question.

Seek inspiration

This is where you throw in all the different elements and ideas you can think of. Literally everything. Nothing is too out-of-scope and, in fact, you probably want lots of diverse sources to help you think differently. The top tip here is to try and uncover unmet needs by using some methods that don’t include self-reporting of issues. Observe how people interact and listen to their impressions of what the problem is, rather than getting them to talk about how they think you can fix it. This is how you avoid creative bias and find the real gems.

For our question, I might include the following:

  • Elements of your social media profiles (e.g. Twitter summary, LinkedIn job description etc)
  • Photos
  • Designed images
  • In-platform (aka native) video
  • Professionally-produced video
  • Post elements (e.g. Text, @mentions, #hasthtags etc)
  • Blogs or LinkedIn articles along with various media there
  • Pinterest board of social media images you like
  • List of your core values
  • Examples of your various achievements in your jobs
  • Portfolio of work output
  • Personal professional brand if you’re a consultant or lawyer – what you want to be known for
  • Corporate brand if you work for a company
  • Different kinds of content platforms, such as Pigeonhole Live

I could go on, but you get the point – every single item can be shaped to point towards the overall impression, which brings us to…

Having lots of ideas

If you’re working with a group, get them to ideate separately then come together, this will help you tap the group intelligence more effectively. During this part of the process, you put all the elements together in one place, then put them through various tools and see what comes out. As you go through this process you will likely find that there are other elements you can use that you didn’t think of. In this case just go back, add in the element and go over your old ideas with this new element in mind.

Here are some great tools for putting the elements together in different, sometimes counter-intuitive ways to see what your mind comes up with. The trick here is not to worry if it’s a good or bad idea (bad ideas can seed good ones) and to go for volume. But constraining yourself in specific ways can help to give you direction, for example, a time limit, or only using certain colours.

  • Mash-up
  • Rapid prototyping
  • Brainstorming
  • Bundle ideas
  • Create a visual framework
  • Stick to specific design principles
  • Others…

Create prototypes

Take some of your best ideas and mock them up. In our case we are probably fine with a pen and paper, literally drawing the profile, post or image out. Other options include building it out of cardboard or paper. There are tools that help with prototyping images and apps.


Once you have your ideas prototyped, then you test them on others. Because this is a first impression and you won’t be there to explain, it’s best to just hand the prototypes over without explanation and ask “What would you think about this person after reading their profile, posts etc?”. The prototype social media presence (profile, posts, images etc) that gets the answers you want will be the one to work with.

In the testing phase you may find that you come up with new ideas, be flexible; if you like them then see what other ideas the new one inspires and prototype anything good ready for more testing.

Iteratively improving the idea

Once you have your best prototype, tested by the group, go live with that. Put up your new profile photos and rewrite your profile elements. Start drafting some LinkedIn articles and posts that fit the bill. Try that for a couple of months and then go back and see what worked and what didn’t. If there’s room for improvement, then tweak it.

What’s different about this approach

While many people revisit their profiles regularly, a lot do not take time to consider what elements they can use and creative ways to combine them so that they point towards the purpose. Many people also try to do too much with their presence, always have one primary purpose to keep things simple and clear. Other secondary purposes can be included as the opportunity arises, but try to do too much and you won’t be known for anything. I did this process to generate ideas about how to include creativity markers in your personal brand.


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