Making Podcast Cover Art Starts with Research
I'm a designer, why should I do research?
When creating cover art, you need to get to know the podcast that you are designing for inside and out. Without a deep and thorough understanding of your client, their podcast, and the direction they want to take their brand, you WILL NOT be able to create the best possible cover art. Without research to base your design decisions on, you end up making arbitrary choices based on your personal preference. Arbitrary design is not good design. Professional designer have carefully thought-out reasoning for their design decisions.
It's not enough to know the podcast is about football; is it for players or coaches? Fans? Are we introducing children to the game or covering it's history? Does the client want to expand the market to target women? All of these possibilities would lead to very different design solutions.[clickandtweet handle="" hashtag="" related="" layout="" position=""] Successful podcast cover art connects the podcast with the audience; you simply can't do this without understanding both sides of the equation.[/clickandtweet]
Where it all Begins
You'll develop your own process over time, but my first step in researching a project starts with having the client fill out the online questionairre on my website. This form gives me all the basic info that I will need as well as the details that I use to determine a design direction. I will build on this information with clarifying follow up questions and outside research. Never stop with just taking in the information that is handed to you; dig deeper and look outside the clients' knowledge base. This isn't a passive process, be prepared to put in a lot of work.
Whenever possible, you should listen to a few episodes of the actual podcast that you are making a cover for. This is very important. Even if the podcaster hasn't taken their show live yet, ask if they can provide you with anything that they have recorded in advance. Nothing lets you get to know a podcast like sitting down and experiencing it the way the audience will. There are just so many nuances and intricacies that can't be communicated by simply reading or talking about the show. I recommend listening to not only the most popular and recent episodes, but also the very early episodes. This will help you understand how the show has developed over time and the trajectory it's on.
Research the Competition
You need to research the podcasts that will be competing with your client as well as demographics and trends within the market. See how other podcasts are differentiating themselves and determine where your client really fits in to the picture. Does the client have an accurate view of their position within the market?
Speaking of the competition, you should listen to their podcasts as well. It's one thing to scope out the cover art and marketing material, but these are podcasts; the actual meat is in the audio. Yes, all this listening is very time-consuming, but it's vitally important. This is also a good reason to charge on a per-project basis instead of hourly.
Outside the World of Podcasts
We are all susceptible to getting stuck in our own little bubble. It's a good idea to look into your clients' niche outside the world of podcasts. For example, if your client makes a podcast about homebrewing, research homebrewing brands that are completely unrelated to podcasting. Not only does this give you a big-picture understanding of the market, it also helps you understand the target audience that much better.
The objective is to know the podcast, the market, and the audience better than your client does. If your client is really passionate and invested this may not be possible, but it's a great goal to keep in mind.
Perspective as an Asset
Have you ever noticed that it is so easy for you to recognize poor decisions when other people are making them? Or how certain solutions may seem so obvious to you, but the person with the problem just can't seem to figure it out? Self awareness is a huge challenge for people and businesses; this is why consultants make big money. But consultants don't have a corner on the market; outside perspective is a valuable commodity that you can offer to your clients.
They may see their podcast as achieving a certain quality level or mood when, in reality, they send a much different message. As a group, podcasters care a great deal about the shows that they produce. While this passion is a strong asset, it also can keep them from seeing certain things; they're just too close to their creation.
Honesty as a Tool
You can offer objectivity and honesty. If the client requests certain colors that don't fit the target audience or is mistaken about how they are positioned within their niche you need to tell them. It is your duty as a professional to use stark honesty to help your clients' show be more successful. Just remember to use tact when broaching the subject, this podcast is their baby.
Not only is it impossible to spot these problem areas without doing your research, you also need evidence to support you when the podcaster inevitably pushes back on your diagnosis. If you don't have research and objectivity backing up your position, then it's just your opinion against theirs. Be prepared to articulate the 'why' behind what you say and do. You can't do that without doing the research.
Ultimately, the goal is to put yourself in the best position to make the most optimal and informed design decisions on you clients' behalf. You can't do that without putting in the work up front to become intimately familiar with every aspect of their podcast, market, and audience. As a designer, research is your strongest ally. If you want to have a professional design process, it always starts with research.