Maintaining Your Podcast's Visual Identity
Ideally, you would hire a full-time graphic designer to create all your graphics and keep your visual identity on-brand. However, most podcasts are one-man shows or very small operations without the budget for a full-time employee. How can you maintain the consistency and professionalism of your brand if you can't afford a full-time designer?
Hire a part time designer
Even if you do have the budget for a full-time employee, it's entirely possible that you simply don't have enough work to keep a designer busy for 40 hours a week. One simple solution is to hire a designer to work for you part-time. For example, if you want a custom graphic for each weekly episode and a few accompanying social media images, you could hire a designer to work ten hours a week at an hourly rate.
Using a Retainer
Another way handle this is to work with a freelance designer on retainer. Generally, having a designer work on retainer means that you pay them for a certain amount of hours or specific tasks each month. You will likely be asked to pay for each months' work at the beginning of the month. The benefits of a retainer are that you know you will have someone you can consistently depend on to do the work you need and you may be able to negotiate a reduced rate.
If you give the designer more work than can be done in the allotted number of hours, you will be billed at the standard rate for the extra work. This can be a major issue if you care caught off guard, but a professional designer should let you know ahead of time if they anticipate exceeding the expected amount of hours.
It's always important to use contract when hiring freelancers, but it's especially important when using a retainer because the situation is a little more complicated.
Pay a designer to establish your brand and give you guidelines
Hopefully, you plan to hire a professional designer to create the cover art for your podcast. If not, please read my post about the importance of podcast cover art and at least consider that possibility. Before you have the designer start on your project, ask about the cost to have him or her create a set of brand guidelines to accompany the cover design.
Brand guidelines are exactly what they sound like; documentation that lays out rules for how every graphic that will be used to represent your brand should look. This document may also be referred to as a style guide and it will explain things like what colors to use, when to use which fonts, and how to place your logo in a layout.
If you already have an effective logo/cover design for your podcast you can still hire a designer to create brand guidelines. You will simply need explain that you are looking for someone to create a style guide for your existing brand. It will be important to have some sort of dialogue about the personality and tone. The designer will likely need to do a good deal of research on their own as well.
Two very important notes on brand guidelines
I've heard some people refer to this document as a "brand bible" and that is a great way to think about it. The guidelines are worthless if you don't follow them. It's very important that you respect the rules that are layed out in the style guide. It is possible to ammend the rules if you find a very, very good reason. Otherwise, stick to the plan.
Creating brand guidelines is a fairly complicated and meticulous process. Don't underestimate the value that a professional can bring to the project. Even seasoned veterans can't always anticipate and lay out ironclad rules for every usage case, but they can get a whole lot closer than a total novice. If you want you're brand to have a consistent, unified, and appealing look, I highly recommend bringing in a professional.
Working with freelancers
Even if you are just have design projects on rare occasions, it may be a good idea to work with the same designer each time. It will be easier to maintain visual consistency if the designer is familiar with your brand and you are comfortable working with this particular individual.
Always use a contract and politely hold up your end of the deal. Though it shouldn't affect the quality of work, a happy designer who is confident that he will be paid on time and treated with respect is going to do a better job. We're only human. In the end, treating your designer well is good for your brand.
The budget option - Do it yourself
I'm not going to pretend that every podcast out there has the money to spend on a professional designer. Maybe you're running a non-profit or you just podcast as a hobby. Maybe you're just starting out and need to make do while you establish a budget for design. Whatever the reason, all hope is not lost if you can't afford quality design services.
Define your brand
First, decide on the tone or personality of your podcast brand. If you've already started producing your show, the identity should be based on existing episodes. If you're still in the planning stage, I would recommend establishing the mood of your show based on the personality of the hosts and the subject matter.
Write out a short list of words that describe your show or how you want your podcast to be percieved. Try to make these words descriptive, distinct, and specific. Three to five words should be plenty; too long of a list will dilute your brand and makes it difficult to communicate comprehensively.
Cultivating your visual identity on your can be a challenge, but if you keep things simple it can be done. Set a few clear rules for yourself and then adhere to them without wavering.
Keeping the list of words that you came up with in mind, set a simple color palette. I would recommend using only two colors, maybe three. You will use these colors for everything; always. Be specific; "blue" is not good enough. Pick a particular blue and write down the hexidecimal code or RGB mix. Using the wrong shade of a color hurts the visual identity of your brand; consistency is vital.
Pick a font; use this font all the time. If you want to get fancy, you can pick one display font for large headlines etc. and one body font for large blocks of text. Keep your list of words in mind while your looking through fonts. Make sure the body is extremely easy to read, don't pick anything too cute or weird. Your headline font can have a little more character, but try to avoid anything that looks cheap or amateur. Steer clear of sites like dafont.com and 1001freefonts.com. Instead check out places like losttype.com, fontsquirrel.com, and fonts.google.com.
I cannot stress enough just how important it is to be consistent with your visuals. If you're changing fonts and colors all the time, you are not building any brand equity. Stick to your color scheme and selected fonts rigorously and you will build brand recognition over time. A well thought-out, consistent visual identity tells potential listeners that you care about details, presentation and quality. This alone will put you ahead of the majority of podcasts out there.