Ismail Benmbarek

Full Guide: Design a Beautiful Instagram Profile

Having a distinct visual language is an integral part of your creative voice as an Instagram creator.

It makes you memorable, and we all want to be memorable, do we not? Thing is, there is a bit of a process to it. If you want it done right, that is. That process is what I’ll be sharing with you today. From absolutely nothing to having a full-fledged visual style embedded throughout the entirety of your profile (profile photo, post template, etc etc)

Okay, enough talking, let’s explore how to create your profile’s visual language.

Embodying the role of an art director

Art Directors are responsible for determining and unifying a production’s visual language, They are akin to an orchestra conductor. They lead, visualize, and combine. You are now this person. This is your new job title for the next couple hours (or however long it’ll take you to come up with your visual language).

This is you for the next little while:

An art director wearing a brown button-up working on a tablet
Credits: Jonathan Borba via Unsplash

Who’s your Instagram audience?

The first thing an art director would do is determine who they are designing for to get the tone right. I mean, imagine using a super formal serif font for an IG page that covers Pokémon card collectibles. In any case, the resulting visual language must resonate with your target audience.

How would you go about doing this? Easy! Define a user persona. Create a fictional person - your ideal customer. Answers questions like: How old are they?  What do they like? What do they dislike? Where do they work?

Here’s a template to get you going:

A user persona worksheet/template
Credits: Komal Bains via Behance

Now that you know who they are, it’s important to get a sense of what kind of content they are currently consuming. Find your competitors and study their visuals.

Now, you should already have quite a bit more direction. Let’s move onto step #2.

Find inspiration

Being able to intelligently source and utilize inspiration is a secret weapon. So, two questions arise: 1) What am I looking for? 2) Where am I looking?

To answer the first question: You’re looking for whatever tickles your fancy AND aligns with what appeals to your audience.

So, where to look will depend on your niche and what resonates with your audience. If your page is educational and information is shared via carousels then, movie cover art and book cover art are absolutely fantastic sources of inspiration. Their purpose is to stand out and be visually appealing. To catch the attention of any new readers or watchers to explore what is within.

Here’s a couple examples:

Sources:

  • Netflix
  • Google “movie covert art”
  • Search “book cover design” on Pinterest

If your visual language is single image photography then, www.unsplash.com is a great place to start.

Here’s a couple examples from Unsplash:

@miikola and @charlesdeluvio via Unsplash

Oh, and, in terms of where to store the inspiration you come across: I’d recommend simply taking screenshots and throwing them in a www.milanote.com doc or creating a Pinterest board and adding your screenshots there. More on this later.

Create a mood board

At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself “why is this dude hitting me with all these random new terms?”. I don’t blame you but I believe in processes and a mood board is a crucial part of this process.

Simply put, a mood board is a visual extension of your mind. It’s like a to-do list. You write things down, not to remember them, but to forget them and continue on with your life. A mood board is where you’re plastering all of your ideas and your rough vision for your IG profile’s visual language. Browsing Pinterest and like a particular font? Screenshot and add it to the mood board. Browsing through Vsco and see a cool portrait shot that you think would appeal to your audience? Add it to the mood board!

It’s a messy collage. This is what it should look like:

A moodboard

Where to create a mood board

Now, since mood boards are a very messy and non-formal affair, it really doesn’t matter where you create them, but these are my recommendations:

  • Milanote
  • Pinterest
  • Figma (What I use)

Anywhere you can quickly throw in a bunch of images works great.

What to add to a mood board

Any visual element that you find enticing really. I, however, like to focus on 4 things:

Typography

Save any fonts you like. Of course, make sure they align with your vision and your audience. Keep your head in the game  

It’s best to view fonts in action (in context) and a great place for that is www.fontsinthewild.com. Quite the hidden gem, go check it out.

A screenshot of fontsinthewild.com

Textures

Textures are a great way of differentiating your designs. Not too many people are using them so take advantage of this. Here are two of my favourite resources to find and download textures:

  • Wildtextures.com
  • Unsplash.com
A screenshot of wildtextures.com

Images

This is a big one. Having a recognizable image style is indeed important. Luckily you’ve got thousands of different styles and edits to choose from.

You can find the images on unsplash.com (can you tell I’m a fan?) and use something like Lightroom later on to replicate the edits.

Colors

The colors you end up going for will be a big part of making your brand recognizable. It’ll probably be the first thing people think of when they recall your IG page. Choose carefully. It’s a good idea to understand the meaning of colors and ensure it aligns with your audience and your page’s tone before even adding any to your mood board.

Here’s a table to help you understand color meanings:

A table with color meanings
Credits: Flux Academy

Once you’ve chosen your base color, you may want to find a secondary (and even tertiary) color to go along with it. This task alone can be quite daunting for a non-designer. How do I create a color palette that makes sense? Well, fear not, that’s a whole other blog post. What I recommend you do is browse through a bunch of pre-made color combinations so you don’t have to worry about such a thing.

Tobias Van Schneider’s Color Claim boasts all kinds of beautiful color combinations. It’s my go-to. Do yourself a favour and go check it out:

A screenshot of Tobias Van Schneider's Color Claim web page
Color Claim by Tobias Van Schneider

Mood board example

Once done, you should have  something that looks like the following image. A random but unified collage of visual elements that 1) Resonate with you 2) Resonate with your audience.

The images are random, yes, but the overall tone should be nearly unchanging. If the mood in your mood board is all over the place (see what I did there) then double back and restart. Trust me, having a mood board with synergistic visual elements will set you up for success. One of the pillars of visual design is in fact consistency.

Apply to your profile

At this point, you should know exactly you want your Instagram profile to look like (from your post template to your profile picture and your highlight cover design). It’s a matter of converting your mood board into a few usable design assets and applying those to your profile.

Establish your assets

If you’ve added multiple fonts to your mood board then go ahead and pick one.

If you can afford to buy that font then please do so (typography designer gotta eat too), if not, then simply download a free similar-looking alternative from Google Fonts. I’m nearly certain you’ll find a solid alternative.

To find the name of the font (and alternative look-alikes) then make use of Myfonts.com’s Font Identifier tool. Works like magic!

A screenshot of myfonts.com's WhatTheFont tool
WhatTheFont

You finalized your font. Go ahead and finalize a color, a texture (if you plan on using it), as well as an image style. Make sure this is all neatly stored in some sort of folder. Call that folder “Instagram Profile Visual Assets”. Keep it neat, tidy and uncluttered. You don’t want too many things in there. Simplicity is king and at the end of the day it’s all about the content you are producing. Your visual assets are simply part of the delivery mechanism and help shape your voice.

Instagram Profile picture

Whether you’re a personal brand or not, your profile picture is your first impression. It’s your handshake. That handshake better be firm (not too firm) and welcoming.

Keep a few things in mind: Most people browse Instagram on their phone so your actual profile picture occupies only a tiny surface area of the screen. As a result, adding text there would probably make it unreadable. Your best bet here is using as few elements as possible while making the largest possible impact. Keep contrast in mind. Make sure elements are well-aligned as well.

Flood your profile picture with the color you chose, then overlay a picture of your face (flashin’ that million-dollar smile) or logo on top of it. By the way, to isolate your face from a photo, use Icons8’s Background Remover. If you plan on using a normal photo then make sure it’s edited in such a way that is aligned with the visual language you’ve been envisioning.

My profile photo:

Ismail Benmbarek
My profile photo (@izzydesignideas)

Need some Instagram profile picture ideas? Profile Pic Maker is a goldmine:

A screenshot of pfpmaker.com
pfpmaker.com

Highlights

Most people actually underutilize and underestimate their highlights. To me, your IG profile is your storefront. You want that storefront to be orderly and intentional. Got something to sell or give away for free? Add this to your highlights with a super brief title. Again, it’s all about clarity. Make sure your highlights are even smaller than your profile photo so any visual elements you add here need to be recognizable even when scaled down considerably. Personally, I believe there are two ways of going about this:

  1. Use an empty character generator to make the highlight title invisible. Then, create your highlight covers (using your brand new visual assets) with a word or two that describes each one. I find this method to be super clean and impactful:  
A screenshot of Instagram highlights
My Instagram highlights (@izzydesignideas)
  1. Method #2 is what most people go for: A simple descriptive ico (that follows the style you’ve developed) as the cover and a 1 to 3-word title underneath. Be mindful of the character cut-off:
A screenshot of Instagram highlights
Instagram highlights by @theharryneedham

In the end, clarity is your friend. If people don’t know what a highlight will show them, they won’t click.

Post template

This is arguably the most important part of the entire process. Creating your post template is something you’ll do once and forget about it (tweaks over time are okay). Use the inspiration you’ve amassed, your mood board the visual elements you’ve saved to create a reusable post template. This step will save you tons of time. It’ll allow you to focus on the substance rather than waste time figuring out how to deliver said substance.

Here’s my post template (it’s a carousel):

Instagram carousel
Instagram carousel post template by @izzydesignideas

My template broken down:

  • Portrait photo under studio lighting (background removed)
  • High-brightness colorized background (same hue as the clothing found in the portrait photo)
  • Condensed font (same hue yet again)
  • Neumorphic shapes

You’ll want to create a template for your stories as well. Again, the inspiration you collected at the beginning of this post should help you produce a layout. Make sure your profile picture and post+story templates are on point to maximize profile visits (more profile visits = more follows).

In summary

If you’ve made it this far, congrats! Hopefully these steps were useful in helping you develop a consistent visual identity for your Instagram profile. Here they are summarized:

  1. You are now an art director
  2. Define your audience and what they currently consume
  3. FInd inspiration (that both you and your audience find appealing)
  4. Create a mood board
  5. Establish your visual assets
  6. Apply to your profile (create a profile photo, highlights, post and story templates)
  7. Done.

Enjoy the audience-building journey!

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