Podcasts are mostly not a visual medium (unless you count the trend towards YouTube consumption), but there is one important area where grabbing eyeballs is essential – your artwork. Just as an engaging YouTube thumbnail is instrumental to attracting new viewers, your podcast artwork has an important role selling your brand.
Not only do you want to represent the personality of your podcast, but you also want to provide a visual cue that enables your listeners to identify you amongst the crowd. Revisit your podcast description and consider what the most important theme would be in as few words as possible. Is it politics? Is it food? If you can sum this up concisely, it can be a great starting point for shaping your artwork content.
Another initial step is defining your target audience - including age, gender, profession and interests - and then imagining what would appeal to them. Marketing experts often create fictional “personas” to help guide this, and it works just as well with podcasts. Having a defined audience will help guide how your artwork can explain the benefit they’re expecting from listening – be that entertainment, information, or inspiration.
Once you’ve got a clear mental picture of your podcast theme and audience, you’re ready to start creating your artwork.
Presenting the essence of your podcast
Truly effective podcast artwork is recognisable at a glance, and immediately illustrates what the show’s about. Your artwork should use imagery to encapsulate the key elements of your podcast as succinctly as possible. However, while you don’t want to make it too obscure and risk confusion, try and think outside the box with your imagery. Basing your logo around a frying pan might make it clear your podcast is about cookery, for example but it’s hardly unique. Being too general in an attempt to have wider appeal is the precise opposite of what most people want from a podcast.
On a similar note, you should avoid the temptation to include podcast paraphernalia such as headphones or mics - your listeners know how podcasts work, they don’t need to have it spelled out for them. If your podcast is related to a well-known brand with a recognisable logo, however, this should be prominent in your podcast artwork as well.
If the presenter or presenters are central to the show’s appeal, your artwork should also include their headshots (with appropriate facial expressions and posture based on the show’s personality). This is particularly important if there are celebrities on the presenting team; that’s part of why they’re there, after all.
Beyond iconography and photos, it’s worth considering the design elements of your artwork, and how they can convey the personality, tone and general ‘vibe’ of your show. If the show’s feel is chilled out and relaxed, then bright, warm tones and flowing curves will bring that across, whereas darker colours, sharp angles and defined lines will create a feeling of seriousness and sophistication. Similarly, colours and shades can be made to evoke specific genres, such as using neon tones to denote sci-fi content, or using green and gold for podcasts about wealth and success.
Although not strictly podcast-specific, make sure you consider standard design theory when generating your artwork, such as use of complementary colours. This blog post provides a great beginner’s guide to colour theory. Make sure you’re using the same colour palette throughout all your art assets and branding, too, such as font colours, social media headers, website imagery and more. The improvements might be subtle, but they help convey a consistent style and feel across all your audience’s touchpoints.
Think about whether you want to use more “old-fashioned” serif fonts or more modern sans-serif. This will depend on the style we discussed earlier, and you might even consider a fake handwriting font for a very personal touch.
The hardy perennial tool for creating your artwork is of course Adobe Photoshop. But this is a premium product, and you might not have access to it. If you don’t, there are some excellent free tools available, with Canva the most popular choice. Adobe also has a free option called Adobe Creative Cloud Express, which has some useful capabilities for working with images and video. Both Canva and Adobe Creative Cloud Express offer templates for a variety of output types, including logos and square social posts, which could be tailored to creating podcast artwork.
A new possibility that could help you create original artwork quickly is the rise of AI image generators. Up until very recently, you would either need strong graphics design skills yourself or bite the bullet and employ a professional. Now you can put some words into a text-to-image AI generator and receive a serviceable output. You could use the words or sentence that is the main topic of your podcast as the seed. This technology is still in its infancy but could enable you to quickly prototype a variety of ideas in different styles, or create a guide for commissioning an artist.
Now that you’ve developed the creative ideas for your podcast artwork, it’s time to think in more practical terms about all the different places where your artwork will be used. Some of these will be quite small, so your logo needs to be recognisable even when icon-sized on a smartphone. Text should use a large, clear font, and you may wish to swap detailed photographs for simpler outlines which are easier to distinguish at smaller sizes. Experiment with the image output in your photo editing application to see how it looks at different resolutions.
On an entirely practical level, make sure that the final graphic file you produce conforms to guidelines for your chosen podcast directories. All the main directories specify square artwork and have similar requirements in terms of resolution and file size. Spotify accepts artwork that is 640 x 640 pixels, but Apple expects a higher resolution. Since you probably only want to create your graphic once and then use it on all directories, the common format we recommend is:
- Size: From 1,400 x 1,400 to 3000 x 3000 pixels
- Resolution: 72 dpi
- File type: JPEG or PNG
- Colour space: RGB
- Maximum file size: 512kB
You may need to adjust the pixel resolution to reach the 512kB limit, although an image with lots of single-colour areas should compress well.
For more details, Apple Podcast guidelines can be found here, and Spotify guidelines can be found here. Note that Spotify doesn’t have separate artwork guidelines for podcasts that are different for music. For the ultimate test of how your artwork will look when resized by a podcasting directory, export it at a low resolution, such as 60 x 60.
The small resolution may also change your mind about how much to put in your artwork, too. If you make the artwork too busy, parts of it may become unrecognisable at low resolutions. Also consider how it will look alongside playback furniture such as progress bars, and leave margins accordingly.
It’s easy to forget how your podcast appears to potential new listeners, in all the excitement of putting the audio itself together. But a small amount of effort could provide the look your podcast needs to get your audience to listen in the first place, putting you on the path to podcasting success.