The ART of the Podcast

I remember sitting on the floor as a child, holding my very first record album: Styx – Paradise Theater.

While I listened to my new favorite band on my Montgomery Ward record player, I’d trace the intricate artwork of the album jacket. My eyes would take in all the details of the glamorous theater facade on the front, contrasted by the decapitated marquee on the back cover.

At that moment I was hooked on cover art.

Several months ago when podcasting started coming into its own, I started checking out the new audio landscape and its accompanying graphics. I was constantly disappointed by the “Cover Art” podcasters were attaching to their work. As a designer I kept asking myself, what were they thinking!

The Apple tech notes tell everyone quite clearly what size graphic to make and even what format to use. Yet many graphics were a hodge-podge of layering, bad text, and poor color choices made in Microsoft Paint.

Well my friends, I’m pleased to report that the tide has turned and real artists are back, making the iTunes browser a more aesthetically pleasing place to be. And the new art that’s being created is elevating some good podcasts that would otherwise be forgotten.

Take for example Tiki Bar TV — simple sex appeal and a clear case of why not to judge a book by its cover. Well designed, the simple composition, enhanced bright green eyes in Photoshop and a sultry smile fit nicely into the tiny cover art box. Unfortunately, the podcast itself left me disappointed. But… I still clicked on it. Goes to show, they understand the art of promotion. Literally.

Next, I was drawn to the simplicity of NPR’s podcast art. Their logo is easy to read and I love the simplicity of the artwork. By changing the banner color and adding an understated graphic, each Podcast has its own understated flair. Simple and well done, all designers should take note of this classic design approach.

Browsing iTunes has been a pleasure lately. With the improving quality of “Podcast Art”, I find myself surfing the categories and selecting whatever interesting graphic catches my eye. I read the description and often subscribe to the podcast whose nice graphics first attracted me.

There it is — conversion based on good design and maybe a catchy title.

I was reminded of my old album artwork when I came across a podcast for Defected in the House. Just like the old days, sitting on the floor.

I still have my Styx Paradise Theater album, edges scuffed and worn. When I look at it again, it reminds me: there’s still a lot that can be borrowed from the old days of album design, when each cover was truly a work of art.

Even though we designers have the luxury of computers to aide in successful design, I encourage every podcaster to take a look at classic album art and remember what it was like to feel moved by a cover design… and the desire to hear the magic behind it.