A specter is haunting the face of the iTunes store — the specter of bad podcast cover art.
Even in such a fundamentally auditory medium, the package in which you present your show is a critical part of whether or not it gets the attention it deserves. In the hectic maelstrom of modern life, having a quick an easy way to sift through the deluge of content that is constantly vying for our attention is critical, and a good logo or cover is one of the best ways to achieve that.
Knowledge is the key to escaping the quotidian traps of boring podcast cover art. If there’s a particular topic that grabs your fancy, feel free to jump ahead to one of the sections below:
Understanding the principles of design will go a long way to help you make something that you can be proud of.
Now, full disclosure: I am in no way a design expert or professional, something I supplement with some very talented friends and colleagues. Luckily, you don’t need to be a professional designer in order to make great podcast cover art! You’d be amazed by how few people take the time to understand the basic elements of design that rule the visual landscape of advertising. It’s my hope that this article will equip you with the tools you need to create excellent podcast cover art.
Here be guidelines
Much like the Pirate’s Code, good design has a set of principles that should be taken into consideration in order to plunder your target audience’s attention. These aren’t rules, they're more like guidelines.
If you invite an enemy captain to parlay at the Isle de Muerta and then proceed to run a cutlass through their rotten guts, be prepared for the consequences that will inevitably follow. It could be a chest of gold. It could also be a sticky end at the hangman’s noose.
Even so, there are a few fundamental truths that even the most creative buccaneer needs to observe when approaching the task of creating podcast cover art. You need a ship to sail the seven seas, after all.
Here are iTunes’ rules for podcast cover art that should serve as the baseline:
Also like the Code, these rules aren’t permanent. Back in podcasting antiquity, the minimum artwork size was a piddling 300 x 300 pixels. To think such small dimensions could contain the majesty of a full podcast cover. It boggles the mind.
In order to account for the irreverence of progress’ inexorable march, be sure to make your cover art as high resolution as you can. As phones and tablets continue to get larger and pack more powerful screens, you can bet your best bottle of rum that your cover art will need to adapt along with it.
You can’t make good podcast cover art if you don’t know what “good” looks like.
One of the best ways to figure out how your podcast should be presented to the world is by observing popular podcast cover art on your favorite directory; it might have slipped by your eyes up until now, but take some time to critically engage with the art for some of your favorite shows. Notice what works, what doesn’t, what you like, and what you don’t.
Each of these covers has something that helps it to stand out while still adhering to some of the same basic principals
It’s a common misconception to think that drawing too much from existing work will somehow turn you into a derivative hack. This push to create truly “unique and original” work is Sisyphean garbage and should be discarded at the earliest possible convenience, preferably through vigorous defenestration or a strongly worded letter.
Innovation necessitates context. Context gives us our unique taste and sense of artistic style, both of which are crucial for every part of the creative process. It’s when these learned systems of knowledge are combined with your subjective perspective that unique creations begin to manifest.
What your title says about your podcast
Before you can start drawing up your new podcast cover art, you need to make sure you’ve carefully considered the title of your show. Think of the title as the axis around which the rest of your cover art will revolve; it conveys the most direct information to your reader, and the rest of your cover needs to follow these semantic cues.One of my favorite podcasts, Dr. Death, invokes a very strong sense of dread, horror, and mystery, while Motherhood Sessions has a soft, safe feeling that is well-aligned with the concept of “motherhood”.
The final things you need to consider in order to develop a harmonious podcast cover are:
What is the point of your podcast?
What is my audience looking for?
This last one is key, as different audiences are looking for vastly different things in the content they consume. Be careful to choose a title that conveys the content of your show so as not to mislead your audience.
One of the important elements of a podcast cover is the typeface and font you choose to convey the message of the written elements of your cover. While the only hard rule is that it must be legible, this is also an important consideration for making sure you sending the right signals to a perspective listener, not only through how the typeface looks, but how it’s placed over the cover.
Remember that there are a few different aspects of podcast cover art that require typographical finesse. Alongside the main title, you should be considering how network, hosts, or other information should be conveyed.
Color is one of the most important and clear ways to convey a particular mood for your podcast cover. Returning to the example of Dr. Death, the use of black and white helps to instill a specific feeling in the audience, in this case one of mystery and suspense. If leveraged properly, color psychology can create powerful images that will stick out in the observer’s mind and help draw them into your orbit.
The basics of color can help make your visuals pop
Furthermore, a basic awareness of color theory can go a long way towards helping you make informed decisions not only about what colors will convey a fitting emotion, but look good together in the same space.
Imagery and structure
The final component of podcast cover art is the image you choose to represent your show.
Now, before I go much further in this, it bears noting that sometimes the perfect image is no image at all! That’s a valid choice, especially if it aligns with what you want your cover art to convey.
If you do decide to use an image, make sure to take into account how it can change the structure of your cover art. While there are as many ways to configure your cover art as there are stars in the sky, we’ve gone ahead and distilled three of the most common cover art layouts for your convenience:
Generally, the trend for podcast cover art is to tend to use fewer words the more images or complex background designs you employ.
Be mindful of branding
Something to be aware of when making your podcast is the different ways it could be used in the future.
If you’re like most podcasters and starting a show that’s meant to stand on its own, then you need to make sure the cover art you choose has the flexibility to look good both on someone’s smartphone as well as the focal point for whatever auxiliary online presence you choose to provide. This could be anything from a dedicated website to a twitter page, and as such, the cover art you choose will be the heart and soul of the brand you build for your podcast.
If, however, your podcast is associated with a larger organization such as the marketing department of a tech firm, you want to make sure your cover art accurately represents the pre-established parent brand. Choosing related images, logos, and colors are all excellent ways to make sure you’re conveying a clear, consistent message to your audience and reinforcing a positive association with the product or service your company provides.
Paint a picture
When crafting the perfect podcast cover art, make sure you’re using all the different elements of design to create something that will jump out of the podcast directory at your potential listeners. By these principles with user intent and the core idea of your content, you can easily create something that will be representative of your show and its brand.
Now that you're aware of everything that goes into making great podcast cover art, consider some of the best graphic design software to help you turn your vision into an attention-grabbing reality with G2's real user reviews!
Piper Thomson is a former Content Marketing Associate at G2. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, they graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in Sociology. Their interests include podcasts, rock climbing, and understanding how people form systems of knowledge in the digital age. (they/them/theirs)