I came across a couple of ads for Toptal today that got me thinking about how design affects the success of an article or other similar content. Toptal is an online network that boasts access for employers to the top three percent of freelancers in the development, design and finance worlds. As a designer, I was intrigued when I saw the ads and noticed a couple of things I thought were worth sharing about how the design of the ads seemed to be affecting the response to them in the social channels.

Twitter post:  How Autonomous Driving Created A Talent War

This Twitter post from Toptal promotes a blog article delineating the current job market for talent who can work in the tech industry creating and driving automation in the auto industry. It was posted a couple of months ago and from the reported number of likes and shares, the performance of the ad was dismal. From a twitter account with upwards of 16k followers, I am not sure why this is the case, though I expect the timing of the post (the day before Thanksgiving) could have a lot to do with that. Regardless, I thought a discussion of the design of the ad would be interesting.

Purpose of the Ad

The purpose of this post is to call followers to view and read the blog post which could be for employees in the tech industry, but it is unclear whom the target of the blog post is, which presents an issue for how effective the ad can be.


The design of the ad has several strengths. There is a rising zeitgeist surrounding vehicle automation that I think is a strength for the topic and the driverless car in the photo takes advantage of this. The color palette also supports a tech focus with the blue and magenta lighting, giving the photo a “Tron” feeling that implies high tech. The photo is well composed, arranged in thirds or a ‘not-half’ composition. The photo is also energetic and that creates a mood of productivity, which employers are seeking in a pool of talent.



Already mentioned is the huge problem with timing on the day before an extended holiday. That’s death to any ad in my book. The other weaknesses of the ad are that the relevance of the image is weakened by the focal point, which is a point well behind the vehicle and this fact pulls the viewer’s eye away from the relevant feature which is that the car is driverless. In fact, I viewed the photo several times before noticing the car was driverless.


Other weaknesses include reflections further obscuring the relevant feature. The brand logo is also very small in the image and I think this is a missed opportunity to be more visible.

Ultimately the ad is trying to interest readers in the blog article. I think the energy and color all work to help this end, but I expect the timing and other weaknesses are probably what led to the extremely low response to the ad. I checked the blog and there were no comments on the article.

All these along with the aforementioned ambiguity of the target demographic contribute to the ad’s ineffectiveness.

Facebook Ad: Hire Elite Freelance Designers

It’s not all bad, though because of another ad for Toptal that I saw on Facebook. This one is much different. The ad appeared on my Facebook feed as below:


Purpose of the Ad

This ad’s purpose is to target potential employers and induce them to come to Toptal’s website to find elite freelance designers to hire. Already the audience is more defined than the blog ad about automation.


This ad has several other strengths, especially in the design. First, while the composition is not quite on the thirds, and also barely ‘not-half’, the flow of the composition is quite strong.



Secondly, the hierarchy is established by the use of high contrast, large-scale typography and the focus is the message of the ad. The figure is a lower contrast area and this is important because the hierarchy needs to allow for the message to be most important, and more contrast in the figure would tend to defeat that goal. The use of whitespace or open space lets each element breathe well. There are two calls to action in the ad which creates a strong inducement to click on the ad and go to the website.



The typography is a modern or Swiss style, which is typically a favorite of designers in the tech industries. The typography also reflects that of the logotype, creating a unified feel in the ad.


The weak areas are few. I think a little adjustment or two in the composition to create more of an alignment on thirds would create a stronger flow, though that is already strong. I think the white pants are a bit of an issue for hierarchy, though their distance from the message and proximity to the lower edge help to remove that as a primary element. I would knock down the white a bit more for the ad to reduce contrast a little more in this area.

Everything else is rather strong as is evidenced by the shares and likes on the ad compared to those of the Twitter post in the previous example.


I would have thought that a flashy and colorful image of the Twitter post would generate more interest than it did. After investigating, even all that glitz could not save bad timing and a poorly conceived design strategy as appealing as the image is. I do tend to lean toward the human figure and for creating relativity, that is a hard strategy to beat, so maybe the automation angle was defeated before it started on that account. There have to be ways to make that topic relate-able to the target audience though since they are human after all.