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Tutorial: Designing and Building a Facebook Canvas

9 MINUTE READ | January 20, 2017

Tutorial: Designing and Building a Facebook Canvas

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Alana Mandel

Alana Mandel has written this article. More details coming soon.

Promoted ad content on Facebook can be quite saturated with brands spending healthy amounts of their budgets on various Facebook ad types. If you really want to make an impression and grab someone’s attention, get creative with Facebook Canvas. This interactive post is optimized for mobile, allowing your audience to dive deeper into compelling brand content including tilt-to-pan photography, image carousels, and videos.

An example of a Canvas PMG built for our client, Cole Haan, highlighting a new product launch. The average user spent between 60-70 seconds exploring the unit.

Before we get into the various components of building a Canvas, make sure your goals and KPIs are aligned. Facebook Canvas is great for brand exposure, launching a new product or campaign, or telling a brand story through several visuals. You can expect to see high time spent with the unit, high engagement, and nice ad recall metrics.

In order for a user to be immersed into a Canvas experience, they need to first engage with a NewsFeed post. This piece of creative needs to be compelling enough to get the user to tap into the Canvas. Below is an example from another Cole Haan Canvas we created. Overlaying a subtle animation on top of a lifestyle photo draw the user’s attention to the expandable button they’d need to tap to see more.

Facebook Canvas is built through Facebook Business Manager’s “Publishing Tools,” and the interface is simple and extremely easy to use. However, what you see is what you get. Within the Business Manager interface, you’re able to upload videos, photos, carousel images, and CTAs. These assets must be perfectly built to spec prior to uploading them into Facebook, so there needs to be some forethought into your designs in order for it to appear seamless. For designers, I recommend building your Canvas mockups in your design software of choice (Photoshop, Illustrator, or Sketch). There are advantages to each platform, but as long as you can crop sections of your design vertically, you’ll be able to pull it off. Designing it as a whole first also helps with reviewing your overall layout for flow and consistency.

It’s important to understand what assets are provided by the client and what pieces are created by the agency designers. Rue21 provided us with holiday campaign headlines (Let’s be Jolly, Happy Holla-daze, etc.) as well as model photography. We identified two major themes in the photography provided: holiday party looks and ugly Christmas sweaters. We thought it’d make a more interesting Canvas if we combined the two into one overall holiday unit that felt festive and fun. From then, we built out the framework.

Rue21 Facebook Canvas built by PMG and ran for the 2016 holiday season.

Let’s dissect the components of this Canvas *said in a Bob Ross voice*. The most innovative Facebook Canvases incorporate an intro video, at least one tilt-to-pan photo, and an image carousel. The rest of the content provides a visual mood (photography), tells a story (designed copy), and gets the user to shop product (CTAs). Each individual section of the Canvas must be uploaded into the Facebook Business Manager UI individually.

Component #1: Intro Video

Because we wanted the user to be prompted to scroll down when first opening the ad unit, we created a short, animated vertical video featuring a Rue21 logo, headline, and a background that subtly sparkled to give that holiday feeling. It’s important to incorporate the client’s logo into the intro video, especially if you opt out of having the “Logo” component offered by Facebook. This logo option is locked at the top of the screen throughout the experience, which we felt was a little bulky so decided against it. We built this video in After Effects using standard iPhone full screen specs and saving it as a .mov file. We added the “SCROLL DOWN” text at the bottom of the screen to prompt the user. *Important Video Tip: Build in 2-3 seconds of black screen time before your video starts. If you don’t, Facebook will stutter-start your video, making the video content appear and then quickly disappear to black, only to fade back to your video within seconds. It’s a weird glitch Facebook hopefully fixes in the near future. Adding 2-3 seconds of black screen time covers up the fade in/fade out effect stutter, and makes your video just appear from a black faded screen. Here’s what it looks like when you upload the video at the top of your Canvas:

Notice how Facebook gives you the option to set your video to “Fit to Width” or “Fit to Height (Tilt to Pan)”. We selected “Fit to Width” for this video because we built it specifically as a vertical video and didn’t want it tilting. If your client has a landscape video with a lot of dead-center content, it could be really cool to choose the “Fit to Height (Tilt to Pan)” option. This will still show up as a full-screen vertical video at the top of your Canvas, but the user will be able to tilt their phone to see to the left or right of the video. This option works best for moody videos with centered content rather than interviews or anything with subtitles or a plot. Testing it out is key.

Component #2: Intro Copy Design

Below the intro video, we added a headline and subhead section to give the user a little more context around what they’re about to see. This was designed in Photoshop and cropped vertically as a separate image to upload into the UI (width of 1080 pixels and height is a variable based on your image’s content). Within the Canvas Builder, we chose “+ Component” and then “Photo”. The type design options within the UI are limited, so we recommend designing your own typography and uploading it as a photo.

Components #3-4: Product on Model Photo + Design Detail Photo

We decided the photo of two models together in party dresses was a perfect static image to precede the carousel of several party dress looks. We added a white line around the photo to connect to the intro video’s line animation for design cohesiveness, and added another Rue21 headline for mood. We also added a down arrow to keep the user scrolling. This was designed in Photoshop, exported at 1080 pixel width, and uploaded into Canvas Builder as a photo. The sparkly ornament design detail underneath this photo was also designed in Photoshop and added into the Canvas as a separate photo (width of 1080 pixels). The reason we chose to add this shorter photo of the ornaments was to separate the 2-model photo from the carousel that followed. I recommend adding small details like this into your Canvas when needed. Not only does it add a nice aesthetic quality, but it keeps your Canvas from feeling too modular and abrupt with its transitions from component to component.

Photo + Design Detail

Component #5: Image Carousel

So far we’ve added a video component and three photo components. Now we get to choose “Carousel” from the “+ Component” menu. We took five photos of models in party dresses and chose to display them in a Carousel rather than stacking them or designing them in a vertical layout. Go with a Carousel every time when you want to feature several photos. They have higher engagement and are easier for the user to navigate. While Facebook adds a moving arrow to the right to prompt the user to swipe right to see more images, we also added a “SWIPE RIGHT” CTA to the bottom of the first photo in the carousel just to cover all our bases. We’ve seen users swipe more often when there’s an actual CTA to do so. Be sure to save all your Carousel photos as the same dimensions. We went with a square format of 1080×1080 pixels for this set. In order to add photos to your Carousel, just click the “+” button in the UI and upload directly.

Component #6: Photo CTA

While Facebook offers a “CTA” component, the design options are limited. Because we wanted to use the same fonts and aesthetic as the overall Canvas, we again designed our own CTAs in Photoshop, exported at 1080 pixel width, and uploaded into Canvas as individual photos. Be sure to add white space around your CTA so the button isn’t pushed up against any other components. To get the function of a CTA, just add a “Destination” link in the box provided. Be sure to add your tags here to get click-through data. This makes the entire photo of your CTA button tap-able.

Component #7: Tilt to Pan Photo

The tilt-to-pan photo feature is one of the coolest parts of Facebook Canvas. Choose an interesting horizontal photo that can also be cropped well to the center. We added another Rue21 headline to the center of this photo and a “Tilt Your Phone” CTA to prompt the user.

Upload the photo into the Facebook UI just as you would any other photo. Instead of choosing “Fit to Width” like we have with the other static photos, select “Fit to Height (Tilt to Pan)” shown below. Recommended height for this photo is 1920 pixels, with a variable width. When the user scrolls to this photo, they’ll be able to see the gentlemen to the left and right by tilting their phones. Cool, right?!

Components #8-10: Copy Design, Image Carousel, Photo CTA

The rest of the Ugly Christmas Sweater portion of the Canvas is a repeat of the components from above, just with different content. We added another photo of designed copy followed by a Carousel of sweaters and a photo CTA that linked to a landing page of Christmas sweaters. We made sure to add the client’s logo to the end as well.

Reviewing and Testing Your Canvas:

For designers, I highly recommend requesting access to the client’s Facebook Business Manager tools. One of the significant advantages to building a Canvas directly into the Facebook UI is that you can send yourself previews, and experience the ad on your own phone directly before it gets published. You’ll need to have a Facebook account and the mobile app downloaded, but it’s worth it to review your work so instantly. Another option is to collaborate either with your client or with your social team to review and test different components on a cell phone. No amount of viewing your content on a desktop screen will give you the same insight as experiencing it as a user would in its live environment.

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Have fun! Get creative! Check out more Facebook Canvas examples here.

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