Want to learn how to create stand-out design content for TikTok and Instagram? We talk to talented brand designer, Viviana Graphics, about how she carved out a career as a content creator.
Viviana – or Viviana Graphics – is an Italian graphic designer known for her cutting-edge designs, helpful tips and tricks, and vivacious personality.
Based in Catania, Italy, Viviana specializes in brand design and creates vibrant brand identities for her clients. However, after working in the design industry and earning a degree in Visual Communication Design, she decided to explore the potential of social media by creating fun, design-related content for Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
From tutorials and tips and tricks to TikTok trends and “day in the life” style videos, Viviana harnesses her passion for design while helping businesses reach their potential and stand out in the market.
We chatted with Viviana about her passion for brand design, becoming a content creator, and her top tips for creating stand-out design videos for TikTok and Instagram.
How did you get into brand design?
I’ve been passionate about art and design since I was a teenager. I started playing with Photoshop in my spare time – watching tutorials, making collages, and trying to replicate what I saw online. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I realized graphic design could be my career.
After graduating high school, I enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts of Catania (Italy) and studied Visual Communication Design for three years. I wasn’t sure what branch of design I wanted to pursue after my degree. I had zero experience designing or working with clients, but my passion for cinema led me to design movie posters.
After I graduated in June 2021, it dawned on me that while I had a degree in Design, I didn’t know who I was as a designer. I had no idea how to make a good logo, let alone an entire brand identity.
During the pandemic, I started watching creators like Kel Lauren, Paola Kassa, and Abi Connick on YouTube, and for the first time, I saw someone doing something I loved – and doing it their way. So, that summer, I set a goal to create one branding identity per week and post it on Instagram.
My Instagram page already existed – I had used it to publish my University work – but I only had around 80 followers. I had no expectations or hope to grow the page, but I started seeing results after one of my reels went viral. Since then, the growth has been non-stop, and thanks to my following and the frequent requests from people wanting to hire me, I officially started my business in March 2022.
I didn’t choose brand design – it chose me! And I couldn’t be happier about how things turned out.
What does an average day look like for you as a designer and content creator?
As a brand designer and content creator, no two days are the same. I usually start my day with a coffee and then head off to my studio. Early on in this journey, I knew I couldn’t work from home, so I found a nice little studio space where I work, make content, and store my gear.
The first thing I do when I get to the studio is admin work: replying to emails, writing my to-do list, checking my content calendar, and all that boring stuff that nobody likes to do. I’m not a morning person, so I prefer to do all these things at the beginning of the day so my creative brain can wake up. Then, I start working on my client projects or record content for my social accounts – it depends on how much work I have and how close my client deadlines are.
At around 6 PM, I leave my studio and sometimes finish tasks from home – that’s the beauty (or the curse) of not having a boss or official office hours.
How did you get started with TikTok?
TikTok is a mystery to me. My main platform has always been Instagram – video content wasn’t that relevant when I started, so I thought static posts would be the best way to present my work. However, things changed quickly; now, video content is where it’s at.
I followed a couple of creators on TikTok before I started my channels, and I was always fascinated by how different it was from Instagram. Everything looked more casual and, honestly, more fun! I started posting on TikTok in March 2022, and things didn’t go well initially. I didn’t understand why content that would get thousands of views on Instagram barely got any on TikTok. I couldn’t crack it!
It took me a couple of months to realize how different the two platforms were. Once I changed how I formatted my content, I finally started seeing results. Now I have a community on TikTok too, and I love that!
How have platforms like Instagram and TikTok benefited your design career?
I owe my entire career to social media. Where I’m from, people don’t see design as valuable or a full-time job: they don’t understand its importance and want things cheap and fast. If I’d kept trying to find local clients, I would have never started my business in the first place.
So, inspired by creators like Abi Connick, I turned to social media to find clients. The only way to do that was by posting consistently, making my presence known, and creating all my content in English. Now, all my clients come via social media – I rarely get inquiries from Italy, and that’s fine with me! Social media has allowed me to work with people from all over the world from the comfort of my little studio, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What are your top tips for growing an online design community?
My top tips would be: invest in your personal branding, be consistent, and do things your way. There’s only so much that we can share and talk about when it comes to design, so the key to success is being yourself and finding your voice. People connect with others; that’s why many of us talk to the camera and share things about our lives. Personal branding is the biggest – and simplest – way to visually present who you are. You can tell so much just by looking at someone’s work.
Of course, being consistent and showing up is also super important. It helps build a presence and shows people that we’re all in this together, which is ultimately what creates a community. My community gave me the courage to be unapologetically myself – in my design choices and personal life – which is what people connect to. I find it hilarious when people tell me I embody my design style in how I dress and act: that’s 100% me, and there’s no way of faking that. That’s why I urge anyone starting this journey to be who they are from the beginning. Your people will find you, just like my people found me.
What’s your advice for those who aren’t video savvy but want to start posting on TikTok?
As someone who wasn’t video-savvy when I started my page, I understand the struggle. Why must I make all this video content for something static like brand design?
Unfortunately, it comes with the territory. Social media is evolving quickly, and we must keep up with every change and trend to stay relevant. Luckily, many creators have “cracked the code” and identified types of content that perform well on social, so follow in their footsteps. Pretty soon, you’ll realize that the simplest of videos can go viral and change your life.
Here are some of my top tips for getting started with TikTok:
- Start simple: record yourself while you design – no need to show your face if you’re shy or don’t want to. Point whatever camera you have towards your screen and design your heart out. Speed up the video so that it’s under a minute, and there you have it.
- Show, don’t tell! Along with a professional portfolio and personal branding, social media is a great place to demonstrate your talent and ability.
- Keep creating: the more content you create, the more comfortable you’ll become, and it will only get easier.
What do you love most about creating branding for clients?
This job has allowed me to work with people from all over the world, which I love. As a not particularly ambitious girl from a small town in Sicily, I could have never guessed this would be my career. I didn’t have “dream clients” when I started this journey, but I’ve since worked with some incredible brands: one of my clients even invented a product; how could ever have predicted that?
What I love the most about creating branding for clients is translating their vision into visuals. Whenever a client tells me I nailed the concept, it fills my heart with joy. That’s ultimately what brand design is: creating something that fully embodies the business and people behind it. I love seeing the vision come together, especially using assets like mockups. They make a huge difference not only for me but for the clients.
What are your top branding tips?
- Research the business or brand you’re working with, and build a strategy before starting the design process.
- Create a mood board and have your client review and approve it to avoid misunderstandings.
- Use additional assets like illustrations, patterns, stickers, mockups, and realistic renderings of the branding to show how it will look in real life.
These steps are essential in my process, and I couldn’t carry out a project without them: this process can turn something as simple as a logo into a full-fledged brand identity. Like a person, a brand has many traits and quirks that make them who they are, and these should come through in the design.
Walk us through your branding process from start to finish.
I first ask all my clients to fill out a questionnaire. I ask questions about their business goals, values, personality, target audience, competitors, and anything to help me understand their strategy. Then, I ask questions about their vision and creative direction: their preferred colors and fonts, keywords to describe their brand, elements they want to include, etc. All of this is essential information, whether the client has requested a brand strategy as a service or not. A brand built on aesthetics alone isn’t going to last; strategy is key.
Once I have all this information, I can begin crafting the creative direction, starting with a mood board representing my visual idea for the brand. Once approved, I move to the fun part: designing the brand identity.
For my client projects, I use the One Concept Method (OCM), which consists of presenting only one concept to the client and focusing all your energy on it. Since switching to the OCM, I’ve found the process much smoother, and the number of revisions has lowered significantly. If the brand strategy is laid out for the client before the design process, it will come together more efficiently.
After the logo suite and the additional assets (like illustrations and patterns) are approved, the last step is designing the collateral assets. I create everything from social media templates to product packaging. Once the client approves everything, I put together their brand guidelines and send them the final files.
What are the main design tools and programs you can’t live without?
My absolute must-have is the Adobe suite. I use Adobe software for every aspect of my design process and wouldn’t know how to work without it. I know many designers use Canva for smaller tasks, but I love Illustrator so much that I even use it to plan my Instagram feed.
Photoshop is my best friend for creating mockups and posts for social media with textures and effects, and Adobe XD is also valuable for creating social media templates. As for project management tools, Notion is the way to go. It’s where I host my Client Portals, write scripts for my Youtube videos, plan my content, and jot down any ideas for future projects or content. For my business, managing all my tasks is just as essential as designing and making content.
What do you love about Envato Elements as a design tool?
Envato Elements has everything designers need to create a fully realized project. I find myself browsing it every day. From searching for the perfect font and unique mockups to choosing stock video and audio for my YouTube content, Elements has never let me down. It’s a lifesaver for someone like me, who’s both a content creator and a designer, and the catalog is so extensive that I find something new every time I use it.
Knowing that I can use everything I see without worrying about purchasing a license is a huge relief and helps me enjoy the research stage even more. I also adore creating a collection and adding all the elements I need for a project in one place: it’s super convenient and helps set a specific vision. Whenever someone asks for my number one design resource, my answer is Envato Elements.
What music do you listen to when designing?
Music is such an essential part of my design process and my life. If I’m not interacting with anyone, I always have headphones on. I’ve found that I’m more creative when listening to music and singing along – my studio also doubles as an arena where I perform whatever I’m listening to as I work. I have difficulty focusing when not listening to anything.
The music I listen to depends on my mood, as my taste varies. My go-to artists lately are Taylor Swift, Fall Out Boy, Mitski, Harry Styles, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bo Burnham, or musical soundtracks. I tried listening to podcasts instead of music, but I always focus too much on the podcast and not enough on the work.
Some other things that inspire me include fashion, makeup, nature, drag, and cinema. I’m obsessed with vintage design and the 1960s and 70s, so this theme often comes up in my designs. Finding inspiration from things outside design is crucial. I have created my most successful projects out of non-design-related things that inspire me, and I always say this when people ask me for advice on staying creative. The more you put yourself into your work, the more you’ll enjoy it and show people who you are.
What’s your least favorite thing to hear as a designer? And what do you love?
My least favorite thing to experience with clients is when they’re too focused on their vision and not listening to advice or direction. Some people don’t understand that, as designers, our job is to ensure that the branding is both visually pleasing and so beneficial to the business. When clients are set on what they want – even though you’ve explained why you think something else might work better – there isn’t much you can do. While I want the client to walk out with the branding of their dreams, sometimes it pains me to wrap up a project knowing I could have executed it better.
On the contrary, I love it when a client fully trusts me and understands I only have their best interests at heart. Knowing I can translate a client’s vision into a fully realized identity precisely as they wanted truly makes me tear up. I’ve cried once or twice while reading feedback or a review – seeing my clients so happy and proud fills my heart with joy and motivates me to keep going.
What are the main challenges you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?
Imposter syndrome is every creative’s companion – no matter how much you achieve, it never goes away. My advice is to learn to live with it instead of fighting it. I’ve often doubted myself, overworked myself, and burnt myself out because I saw other people succeed easily – or at least that’s what I thought.
Now that I’ve been running my business for a year, I know how hard it is and that people (myself included) tend to show only the good parts on social media. But the reality is far from what we see on our feed. Back in May 2022, I didn’t book any clients – even though I had over 20k followers on Instagram and my page was thriving.
Another big challenge is speaking English and making all my content in another language. I’ve been studying English since I was a child – and I love speaking it – but it sometimes gets frustrating. I often wish I could speak in Italian so people could understand me more easily and I didn’t have to put in the extra effort every time I communicated with someone. I consciously chose to speak English because I knew it would help me build a career, but it makes me sad sometimes. Many Italian designers come to me for advice on this issue, and I usually don’t know how to help them. What can you do if you don’t speak English and want to build a successful creative career speaking your first language? I still don’t have the answer, but I’m hoping to find it along the way.
What are your key learnings from your journey? Are there any mistakes you’re glad you made along the way?
The sooner you start being yourself, the better. Initially, I tried to do what others did, even though it didn’t feel like me, and I didn’t enjoy it. At some point, I decided to take more risks. I tried different things in my content and design work, and it paid off. Trial and error apply to every aspect of this job. Making mistakes is ok: it’s what makes us grow and evolve.
Another thing I’ve learned the hard way is that negative comments can affect you
significantly – especially if they contain no constructive criticism. People leave mean comments to make themselves feel superior, and this ends up hurting the creator for no reason. Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with this much, but those first few times were rough: I would spend the entire day thinking about that one negative comment, even if it were silly. Now that I’m more confident as a designer and content creator, I just laugh these “hate comments” off. I even got a hate email once, which made my day!
The main advice I’d give to my younger self is to believe in myself more. After I graduated, I was completely lost and didn’t think I could ever have a career in design. I never allowed myself to explore my style and have fun with it – just like I did when I first started using Photoshop to make silly edits of my favorite singers or TV characters. I found joy in design again when I started posting on Instagram, but even then, I didn’t bother putting in the work – because, deep down, I thought that I could never succeed. My followers proved me wrong, but I wish I had known my value earlier.
Sometimes I have a hard time believing that this is my life (there’s that imposter syndrome again), but then I remember that my career is the result of hard work, consistency, and a genuine love and passion for design. If you have these things, you can do anything!