Design for social

Some are static, some animated or video based – one thing social ads have in common is that they all have great reach and impact. As a designer it’s my job to captivate audiences and draw them into the rest of the social post through the visual tile. It can be a challenge due to the tiny space, especially when you consider most of the audience will be on a mobile phone. Many times have I dissuaded clients from trying to include all the copy and logos on the image tile and suggest focusing on creating just one strong image or just a few words. The social ad is just a hook that creates intrigue that triggers a journey. It could be to book tickets for an event or a public information announcement, but whatever the purpose, I think it’s still important to keep the message clear and easy to consume.

Here are a few of my practical tips:


For most ads 16:9, 1:1 or 9:16 are the ones I work with: basically landscape, square and portrait. You could create all the image sizes specified by all the platforms which will increase overhead of amends and variations to the design, but stick to these three and you’ll have less to worry about. For physical sizes I tend to stick to the larger resolutions in a hope to retain better visual appearance. Many platforms optimise the images as you upload them. There are also slightly different recommendations across social platforms but some are only a couple of pixels shorter than others and not worth duplicating. For video you may as well go up to 4K as YouTube delivers to that resolution and many UHD TVs have YouTube built in. If you are working on lower spec PCs or have limited disc space I wouldn’t go lower than HD for now.

Landscape: 1200 x 630
Square: 1280 x 1280
Portrait: 1080 x 1920

Video: 4k – 3840 x 2160, HD 1920 x 1080


You can create ads in anything that can spit out jpegs, gifs or pngs. I have even produced templates for clients in Powerpoint which is great if you want to kick out graphs and data. I’ve most often stuck to Photoshop though. If I am working at speed and need to adjust photography or tweak lighting, I don’t have the patience to move back and forth between apps. If you set Photoshop up for production using artboards and smart objects, you can create a suite of banners within one file that you can animate and optimise for the web in a couple of clicks. Save as an animated gif or import the PSD into After Effects to really push boundaries. All Adobe software works pretty seamlessly together, so you can move between apps like Animate or XD if you want to do something more code based. The Adobe suite is an enormous toolkit that helps you extract what’s in your imagination. I’ve thrown Cinema 4D into the mix and, because of its maturity, it’s already a good friend of Adobe’s After Effects.

I’m sure there’s plenty of debate around which is the best software to use, and I’ve always been happy to give any of them a go, but all the design choices are still made by the person using them. I’d recommend using whatever you’re comfortable with.


Images, if bold and brave, can capture attention. I try to avoid stock photography as it can be overused, particularly the free stuff. The message has to offer a little intrigue, desire or a practical benefit to the audience it’s targeted at – ideally a one-liner, as many users skim the feed. Try to persuade clients not to stick their logo all over the image as it is already present as part of the post. Keep it simple. Complicated messages need animating, but again the first line needs to draw the audience in. At the front of my mind I’m aware that the audience isn’t on the social platform with any wish to see adverts, so I avoid being deceptive and make sure I get a clear message across. The last thing you want is for users to switch off because you caught them out.


I don’t believe there is one ideal format for every ad. I have seen conflicting results whether a single slide or a video offers the best ROI. I think it’s down to the message, the subject and how much the audience will benefit from what you are offering. A 50% sale for a fashion retailer may be better executed as a single image and targeted with different adverts for audiences like Women, Men and Kids. Single image tiles are also great if you want to test out different messages before investing into animation or video production. But some messages can’t be delivered in one tile. Carousels are another option, but getting a user to engage will require a really slick, intriguing intro. Videos are a great way to sell multiple benefits or build brand perception. For example, selling a car is a big ask in one image so maybe a bit of investment into a video or animation will make all the difference.


As with all marketing projects, audience is key. Because you can target them quite specifically within social platforms, you can tailor messages so they appeal to different segments. Understanding what motivates them and what might intrigue them can make all the difference. I always ask for the research if it’s available. Discovering what has been successful in the past, and with whom, can be really insightful and can help steer the creative. It’s also good to know the disasters too, so they aren’t repeated.


I’m a fan of offering two routes for audiences. A quick action, and a ‘find out more’ option. If a user isn’t ready to ‘buy’ or ‘book’ or ‘share’ then maybe they need more persuasion or they just need concerns addressing. This may mean creating some decent content behind the ad. The content may already exist, but I would check the messaging flows, doesn’t contradict and builds on what the user has seen already. If someone does need more persuasion then repeating content won’t help – unless, of course, you’re providing evidence and examples alongside it.

These are my thoughts and my approach to social ads. I know there are many options and really clever personalisation techniques available, but my advice for a quick win is: be bold, create desire or intrigue and keep the message really simple.


  • Video production
  • Social ad design

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