Podcasts are an an almost wholly auditory experience. You create an intimate connection with your audience basically by whispering in their ears for an hour, sometimes on a daily basis. So if you’re starting a podcast for your company, or even for your own personal brand, it makes sense to focus on the audio quality. But before your words reach the ears of your listeners, there is one area where the visual is just as important: your podcast cover art.
Your podcast cover is the first thing your listeners will see when they look at their iPods, or browse Stitcher or search for it on their phones. It’s a visual first impression for your podcast and what you are trying to say. Just as importantly, good cover art is one of the requirements for becoming a featured podcast on iTunes.
So, how do you represent your sound with a cover design? You’ve come to the right place! In this article we’ll guide you through the process step by step:
- Before you begin designing your podcast cover
- Restrictions and requirements for podcast covers
- Getting started with your podcast cover
- Consider where your podcast cover will be used
- Pick a style for your cover
- Give your cover some color
- Let your typography speak
As excited as you are about your new podcasting endeavor, you can’t just jump right in and start drawing a cover. You have to focus that enthusiasm on the specific product.
The first step is to ask yourself some key questions: What is your podcast, and who are your listeners?
Start thinking about what your podcast is really about. Be as specific as possible. Say your podcast is about movies. Is it about movies in general? A particular genre of movies? A specific series of movies?
But being clear on the topic is not enough. Consider the tone of your podcast, as well. If you cover politics, are you doing so in a straightforward, just-reporting-the-facts kind of way? (If so, hurray! We need more of that.) Are you doing it in a snarky, funny way? Is it a panel discussion, or just you, pontificating alone?
All of these are valid choices, but they’re all different, so they need to be presented in a different way.
The second question is as important as the first: who is your intended audience? You can, of course, start with broad categories like age and gender. But also consider why someone might be interested in listening to you discuss this topic. Are they already aficionados? Or are you reaching out to people who might not be familiar with the subject?
Remember, the purpose of the podcast cover art is to attract your audience. So it’s very important to understand who they are and what they want, first.
Limitations can make you more creative. They force you to think about what you really need to convey in your cover art, and what’s superfluous.
The very first restrictions are the format requirements given by your podcast directory or directories. (That’s the technical name for Stitcher, Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play, etc.) Luckily, the requirements for the podcast cover art is pretty much the same across the board. Here are iTunes’ rules:
Podcast feeds contain artwork that is a minimum size of 1400 x 1400 pixels and a maximum size of 3000 x 3000 pixels, 72 dpi, in JPEG or PNG format with appropriate file extensions (.jpg, .png), and in the RGB colorspace. To optimize images for mobile devices, Apple recommends compressing your image files.
These rules aren’t permanent, however. Back in the day, the minimum artwork size was 300 x 300. As people start listening to podcasts on more and more devices, from phones to TVs, with better and better screens, the size requirement is likely to only get bigger. We’d recommend creating artwork that’s closer to 3000 x 3000, to save yourself the trouble of resizing later.
Besides the size of the image, the biggest constraint is that it’s square. That’s an unusual format, in an age of widescreen televisions and HD phone screens that rotate both vertically and horizontally. It’s also versatile and works whether your screen is tall or wide. Creating something that fits a square frame can be tricky, but that’s part of the creative restrictions.
One of the first things you’ll want to decide is, whether you want to use a photo or a drawing for your podcast cover art. And just as important: what will it be a picture of?
Photography tends to imply verisimilitude; we naturally think a photo is depicting something real. Hard news, science, and other fact-based podcasters obviously want the listener to think of their content as real. But even if you’re creating a fiction podcast, photos can still make it feel real.
Of course, photos can be stylized, but never quite so much as an actual drawing. Using graphical art for your podcast cover allows you to create anything. Set the mood and build the world of your show before the audience even starts listening.
But whether it’s a photo or an illustration, what should your cover actually depict? This is where the little self-examination we did earlier comes in handy. If the podcast is centered around the host’s personality, nothing’s quite as attention-grabbing as the person’s face. The facial expression you choose can reflect, and even inform, the viewer’s mood or feelings.
If you don’t want to make the show all about yourself or the hosts, then start with what you do want it to be about. If it’s a car show, depict a cool car in your logo; if it’s about nature, draw some wildlife. Remember, think about your audience. Are they into muscle cars? Monster trucks? Classic roadsters? Don’t be afraid to get very specific.
As we’ve covered above, your artwork definitely has to work as a thumbnail in the podcast directory. But you’re also likely to use it elsewhere, such as your social media accounts and business cards.
As with many types of logos, versatility is the key. Make sure your artwork isn’t so busy as to be illegible on an iPod, but also not so sparse as to be boring on your homepage.
Another thing: make sure the audience knows it’s a podcast. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s a function that can be easily overlooked. If someone sees one of your clever tweets while scrolling through Twitter, you’ll want them to know you’re a car podcast, not a car dealership.
You could pick a name that makes it clear you’re a podcast, but another common solution to this problem is to include the iconography of podcasting in your design. Incorporate either a microphone or headphones into your logo, and it becomes pretty obvious that this is a logo for something you listen to.
Some might say this is bordering on cliché, because these icons are very commonplace, but don’t let that deter you. They’re utilized frequently because they work. Just make sure to check out the competition, first. You could come up with a clever way of drawing a beer mug as a microphone for your microbrewery podcast, but someone else might have beaten you to it.
There are six basic elements of design: Line, Shape, Texture, Framing, Color, and Type. The way in which you use them defines the style of your cover design.
Since the subject of your artwork is likely to determine the line and shape, we’ll quickly gloss over those. Just keep in mind that the lines of the object will direct the viewer’s eye to where you want them to look. Regardless of how stylized you draw a boat for your sailing podcast, the shape should not be so abstract that it doesn’t convey the idea of “boat.”
The texture and framing are going to be limited again by the actual size of the podcast artwork. Too much shading and texture and it will become a muddled mess on a tiny music player screen. And there’s only so many ways to frame a face or body inside a square image.
The key is to choose a style that reflects your podcast. Fun and colorful is appropriate for an inspirational podcast; less so for one about the history of the Holocaust. A retro look will likely appeal to fans of vintage cars, but not high tech.
Let’s focus on color theory. This will affect your logo, whether it’s a naturalistic photograph or a hyperstylzed drawing of a superhero. Color temperature affects the mood—warm colors are associated with energy, brightness, and action, while cool colors make you feel calm, serene, and at peace.
But you don’t have to be monochromatic. Complementary colors (i.e., colors from opposite sides of the color wheel) contrast strongly with each other. Yellow and purple, for instance, make an image pop.
Analogous colors, on the other hand, create a color scheme that feels cohesive. You may choose a dominant color for your logo, with another one that’s nearby on the color wheel to support it or accent it. Your logo will seem ordered and intentional.
But if you really want to create contrast while still remaining in balance, consider triadic colors. These are colors evenly spaced around the color wheel. If you have a complex logo, triadic colors can ensure each element is visually distinct, while allowing the logo as a whole to remain harmonious.
In the podcast world, words are all you have. So, it stands to reason that for your podcast cover, words are very important.
99 times out of 100, the words on your podcast cover are going to be the title of your podcast. If you have a very established brand, you might be able to get away with an abbreviation or initialism. On the flip side, if you’re part of a podcasting network, you might be required to include their lettermark, which can be tricky. You don’t want the logo to be too cramped.
Typography is a whole field unto itself, but for a non-expert working with a designer, it’s not difficult to find the right font by describing the feeling you wish to convey. A modern font is chic; a serif font is classic; script is humanistic. The possibilities are endless. Here’s a handy guide for finding the right font for you.
Even when you discover the perfect font, never forget legibility. You cannot make the text too small, or no one will be able to read it. Too big, and the words will dominate and overwhelm the imagery. (Which might be what you want; just make sure it’s intentional and not accidental.)
Your words and art, working together in harmony
The perfect podcast logo combines a multitude of elements geared toward a singular goal: telling the audience who you are, and why they should listen to you. It can be a daunting task, especially since most podcasts begin as passion projects. They’re personal and intimate.
But that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. The right designer can take your style and tone, and build a cover that conveys that mood across all platforms.