4.2 Min Read • Attraction

5 Podcast Cover Art Design Decisions That Will Accelerate Your Growth

Most would-be podcast listeners never make it past your cover art. Here's how to change that through strategic design.
By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns

By Jeremy Enns

Your podcast cover art might just be the most important asset of your entire show.

For many potential listeners, your artwork is the first touchpoint with the show, singlehandedly forming their first impression.

And every listener will encounter the art before clicking play on the first episode.

Your artwork is the gatekeeper to your show.

No aspect of your podcast plays a bigger role in attracting or repelling would-be listeners. Which means it deserves a serious investment of time, thought, and—in some cases—expense.

But to start, it helps to understand what the point of podcast artwork actually is.

More specifically, what are the distinct jobs it must to perform to maximize your new listener acquisition rate?

In my experience, there are five of these jobs your podcast cover art should be designed to achieve.

Podcast Artwork Job 1: Stop the Scroll

Over the lifetime of your show, your artwork will be seen tens or hundreds of thousands of times. Perhaps even millions.

Only a fraction of those impressions will ever result in listeners, however.

In fact, many of them won’t even result in the viewer registering what they’re looking at, as they scroll on to the next cat video in their social feed.

If they do register it, Facebook’s research has shown the typical attention span for video posts is just 2.5 seconds on desktop and 1.7 seconds on mobile. For image posts, it wouldn’t be surprising for that number to be even smaller.

Grabbing attention and stopping the scroll, then, is the first job of your artwork.

Designing scroll-stopping cover art comes down to two things:

  1. Standing out visually from the other content surrounding it.
  2. Communicating clear relevance to your ideal listeners (more on that in a minute).

Standing out depends heavily on the context where someone comes across your show.

A social feed is made up of very different content than a podcast app’s search results for one of your keywords.

And while it’s impossible to design to stand out in every single possible context someone might encounter your show, a good starting point is to understand the design conventions of your genre, recognize the trends and cliches, and design your cover art to stand out against them.

Podcast Artwork Job 2: Earn the Benefit of the Doubt

When faced with incomplete information, people make assumptions based on the information they do have.

When presented with the podcast cover art of a new show, then, their default reaction is to assume the quality of the artwork is representative of the quality of the content.

This is why hiring a professional designer is one of the most valuable investments you can make in your show.

No matter how good the content is, if your cover art doesn’t reflect and communicate quality, craft, and attention to detail, few people who see it will ever click through to the show itself.

Legitimate-looking cover art that has been thoughtfully, professionally, (and perhaps even artfully) designed, on the other hand, can immediately earn the trust of the potential listener that this show will be worth their time.

Podcast Artwork Job 3: Communicate Relevance

We’re exposed to countless thousands of pieces of content every day.

Most of it, however, our subconscious brain filters out before it reaches the point of our conscious awareness, let alone interest.

The reason?

It’s simply not relevant to us.

Sure there are exceptions, but for the most part, our brains do a phenomenal job filtering out the noise we wade through on a daily basis and surfacing the signal.

To break through your potential listeners’ filters then, you need to give their subconscious brains a clear signal that bypasses the filter and gets amplified to their conscious attention.

The easiest way to do that is by clearly communicating your show’s specific relevance to your ideal listeners.

This means making it unmistakably clear what the show is about and who it’s for.

The more specific you are on each of those, the more relevant your ideal listeners will perceive your show to be and the more likely they are to give it a closer look.

Of course, communicating relevance is highly dependent on your show title.

If your title does a good job communicating the what and who of your show, it should be prominently featured on your cover art in an easily readable typeface.

If your title is more evocative than clear, on the other hand, your artwork should fill in the gaps visually—through iconography, photography, colour, etc—to help potential listeners home in on what the show is about.

Podcast Artwork Job 4: Communicate Positioning

Relevance is enough to get a potential listener to pause and take a second look.

But in contexts where your artwork is surrounded by (and competing with) other similar shows, your cover art must also communicate some aspect of your show’s positioning.

Again, your title plays a large role in positioning your show. But your visual design has enormous power to communicate positioning and influence how a potential listener interprets your show.

Consider the following examples of different artwork for this newsletter (and the upcoming podcast version of it).

Design Positioning.png

Same name. Very different vibe.

At its core, when it comes to using design to communicate and reinforce your show’s positioning, your goal is to give your ideal listeners a reason to click into your show over the dozen others they might be choosing between.

Podcast Artwork Job 5: Memorability

The previous four jobs have all been in service of winning over a listener for the first time.

This last job—memorability—however, is about getting them to keep coming back after that first listen.

It takes more than one episode to win over a regular listener, which means you’ll need multiple touchpoints with them to get there.

It’s much easier to build up that critical mass of listen time when your artwork is distinctive and memorable, acting as an easy reminder of the show before listening becomes habitual.

My Cover Art Design Process

If you’re interested in going deeper into how I think about designing cover art (and pretty much anything), I just published a video walking through the thought (and technical design) process behind several of my own shows, past, present, and future.

I originally recorded it for a Podcast Marketing Academy member who was going through a rebrand, but I’ve decided to release it publicly.

Check it out, then hit reply or leave a YouTube comment and let me know how it’s changed the way you think about cover art design.

Watch the video here.

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