Three Kinds of Podcast Cover Art
Understanding and labeling these primary categories of cover art will help acclimate you to the world of podcast cover design. Communication between podcasters and designers will be smoother and more effective if both parties have a general understanding of the common types of cover designs. As a designer, in-depth knowledge of the industry is vital. It will help you adjust to trends, differentiate from the competition and visually 'place' your cover art design within the market. Learning these main design directions is the first step to understanding when to use each style.
Almost all podcast covers have some sort of typography, but designs in this category make the text the absolute focus. The podcast title is almost always emphasized while the tagline and hosts name are sometimes included as well. The power of typography is widely underrated in the general public, but a good designer knows that excellently crafted typography can be extremely impactful.
Font choice is always a vital decision, but the small size of podcast thumbnails really emphasizes the importance of details such as leading, kerning, x-height and contrast in the letterforms. Legibility is of the utmost importance, especially at such small sizes. With users scrolling through hundreds of podcasts so quickly, style may have to sacrificed in favor of clear legibility. A professional will know when to exercise such restraint.
In the hands of a skillful designer, typography can communicate on a deeper level than just being words on a screen. Take this simplified example where I laid out two different versions of cover art for a fictitious podcast. I used the same text and color scheme for each version, but the typographic changes make all the difference in setting the tone of the show.
Cover art featuring a photo of the host and text with the name of the podcast is probably the most common style out there. But before you go in this direction you need to ask yourself if the host is really the face of the brand. If not, it could actually be detrimental to slap their face on the cover art. Who is going to click on a thumbnail of some random person that they have no connection with? Give viewers a reason to click. If your podcast is part of a larger organization, consider harnessing any brand equity by using the establish branding guidelines or even incorporating the 'parent' logo instead.
If you are trying to build a brand around an individual personality or if there is already a following based around the show host, using a 'host photo' design can be an extremely powerful solution. People want to connect with people and featuring the host on your cover art can be a great way to form an emotional bond that translates to loyal listeners.
Let's look at an example: If Tesla or SpaceX were to start a podcast hosted by Elon Musk it could be really effective to feature his face on the cover art. Musk is a well-known and outspoken personality in the tech world. And, although he's very involved with his companies, he personally has a large following that is independent from any one business that he owns. A design showing Musk could leverage his audience to launch the podcast while continuing to grow his personal brand.
This is probably the broadest category as it includes what you typically think of when he hear the word 'illustration' as well as more iconic designs and even emblems or badges. Common themes in this category are illustrations of the hosts, company logos, and custom icons. Illustrated covers allow for a lot of different styles and creative directions. Illustrations can be used to show whimsy, depict abstract ideas, add excitement and more.
It can be tempting to make an illustration too complex or intricate for podcast artwork. Remember, the cover art has to be crystal clear to someone browsing iTunes on their phone. It's vital that the illustration holds up at small sizes and still communicates the intended message.
A World of Possibilities
As you start to consciously observe and categorize podcast cover art, you will find that a lot of designs tend to straddle the line between these categories. For example, a cover that evenly balances the hosts photo with the title may be hard to classify. You will also run across some designs that don't seem to fit neatly into any of these groups. You may find it useful to add categories or divide these main styles into smaller subcategories. Just remember [clickandtweet handle="" hashtag="" related="" layout="" position=""]that there is no limit to what a creative, hard-working designer can do in 220 square pixels[/clickandtweet]. Use categorization as a tool to help you organize your thoughts about what's out there and inspire you to go create something awesome.
How do you categorize podcast covers? Are there any big trends you're noticing? Let me know of twitter.