Visual design probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about podcasts—it's an audio-first format, after all. But in a super-saturated market where listeners are quickly scrolling past packed menus of options on myriad platforms, an eye-catching logo can make a world of difference.

 

We talked to seven artists about how they approached creating podcast cover art that pops on a very small scale. Read on for their tips and tricks on producing editorial illustrations and portraits that distil vast audio troves down to a single square.

Podcast: 88 Cups of Tea

Designer: Juliette Kim, Studio Juliette

Cream-colored background with 88 CUPS OF TEA written in a friendly font in soft greens, oranges, yellows, pinks, and blues.

Yin Chang founded 88 Cups of Tea — an online platform and podcast for creative writers — in 2015. In 2019, after four years of growth, she tapped designer Juliette Kim to head up a rebrand, and together they chose two words to guide their design choices: positivity and diversity. Having a clear goal or message is key when it comes to brand design, says Kim.

 

“I worked with Yin closely while designing, and we tried to communicate the core values of the podcast through the colors and form,” she says.

 

The outcome is deceptively simple: the podcast title in warm pastels on top of a creamy, off-white background. But Kim’s playful design choices communicate volumes about the podcast’s mission. 

Kim, who does the bulk of her work in Adobe Illustrator, used the app's Shape Builder to elongate the E in “tea” to mimic the image of a stack of books. “Shape Builder is straightforward and easy to use. It’s super useful, especially when you make logos. I don’t even touch the Pen tool; I make logos with just shapes: circles, rectangles, etcetera,” she says.

Photograph of a studio mood board with art, color swatches, and  images pinned up. Everything is soft greens, oranges, yellows, pinks, and tans.
Photograph of a stack of notepads, stapler, and pen in soft greens,  oranges, yellows, pinks, tans, and blues.

She then aligned the letters U and P in “cups” atop the typographic book stack as a nod to the uplifting nature of the podcast. When it comes to playing with type, Kim suggests using Illustrator’s Reflect tool to flip the word horizontally or vertically so you can no longer read it easily, allowing you to focus on its form instead.

 

Kim’s redesign extended beyond the podcast logo to the website and social channels, and there are plans to apply it to merchandise, too. 

Kim says it's important to think past the assets you're tasked with creating up front, and make work that can live in many forms, anticipating needs your client hasn't yet realized.

 

“A brand is a living thing,” she says, “not something that is created and finished.”

Podcast: Within the Wires

Designer: Rob Wilson

Vector line-drawing illustration evoking both a bug and a computer  chip in chartreuse, with bold blue and green highlights.
Four vector illustrations with moody purples, greens, and yellows featuring  the text Welcome to Nightvale, along with moon and eye iconography.

Launched in 2016, Within the Wires is a dramatic anthology podcast. Each season stands alone, but some characters overlap. When Wilson came on board, he was provided with a rough cut, a synopsis, and some visual cues, such as corporate logos from the late 1970s and '80s. He was told that listening devices would feature heavily in the narrative, that there would be allusions to nature (particularly insects), and a lot of mapping — all wrapped up in the world of technology. Eventually, the idea of creating an insect hidden within a microchip developed.

“It was a way to show nature and technology, and to have the bug actually be within the wires,” says WIlson. “This final direction spoke directly to the title of the podcast, gave visual clues to the narrative, but as with the other NVP icons I created, left the artwork up to interpretation for the audience.”

Podcasts, now ubiquitous, were still a bit of a novelty in 2011 when Rob Wilson was asked to create the logo for audio drama Welcome to Night Vale.

“At the time, my first question was, ‘What is a podcast?’ They were relatively new and the digital constraints — Make it square! It has to have the title on it! It’s the size of a fingernail! — seemed impossible,” says Wilson.

 

Night Vale, and its podcast network Night Vale Presents (NVP), has since become a juggernaut and Wilson’s design has lived several lives, including in a book, on merchandise, and even tattoos. So when he teamed up for more collaborations with the Night Vale creators, he went in knowing the power of those diminutive squares.


Wilson — who has now designed eight logos for NVP — starts out drawing ideas in a sketchbook, then takes the best ones into Illustrator, where he draws with a mouse. The vector illustrations he’s created for the NVP podcast icons work well, he says, because they allow the design to shine. 

Photograph of a sketchbook opened up to a spread featuring line  drawings of a bug with wings, a cassette tape, and other line-illustrations.
Five vector illustrations that vary stylistically and in color palette, but each  featuring the words Within the Wires.

He created multiple versions of the insect in a maze-like tech pattern within Illustrator, choosing the final one for its simplicity — the better to read on a small scale. He chose the color palette to reflect the natural world, and typography to mirror the graphic design of circa-1970s tech companies.

 

Wilson, who has a background in corporate branding, encourages embracing the constraints of the podcast logo medium.

 

“Sometimes having strict parameters — stylistically, with colors, typography, and messaging — can force you to be more creative,” he says. 

Podcast: The Heart

Designer:  Jen Ng

Anatomical neon pink line drawing of a human heart on a purple  background.

Kaitlin Prest, creator and host of The Heart podcast, knew the name might lend itself to cuteness, and she did not want a valentine to grace the logo. After all, the show, a richly sound-designed podcast about intimacy that defies easy classification, had previously been called Audio Smut.

 

It was kismet then that artist Jennifer Custard-Jarosz applied to be a roommate in the house where Prest was living. 

“She shared her sketchbook and I fell in love,” says Prest. She asked Custard-Jarosz to create an anatomical illustration of a heart, a beating muscle that would be anything but twee.

 

Custard-Jarosz sketched a heart in black ink, along with a version colored with muted pinks and greys. She presented them to The Heart team and members of Mermaid Palace, the audio company Prest founded to produce podcasts; there, art director Jen Ng art mocked up logos featuring both, eventually moving forward with the ink drawing.

Black and white anatomical drawing of a human heart.
Anatomical drawing of a human heart, colored with muted pinks,  oranges, and tans.

She brought the sketch into Adobe Photoshop and used the Adjustments feature to tinker with the Brightness/Contrast, Curves, Color Balance, and Selective Color to achieve what she calls a “textural grittiness.” 

Anatomical black line drawing of a human heart, colored with muted  pinks, oranges, and tans on grey background.
Anatomical black line drawing of a human heart, colored with muted  pinks, oranges, and tans on pink background.

“I also used Photoshop’s Magic Wand tool set to a very low tolerance to preserve the analog, hand-drawn feel along the edges of the art,” she says. “There’s a realness and rawness that makes up the show, so we wanted to honor that.”

 

Ng dialed up the contrast of the heart so that the blacks and whites would pop against a pink background. Since the title of the show was encapsulated in the drawing, it felt redundant to use and it was left off. 

Like the podcast, the logo has evolved over time, as well. Artists Phoebe Unter and Nicole Kelly, part of the Mermaid Palace team, have stepped into the role of producers and Unter redesigned the logo in early 2020. The original artwork was replaced with a scan of a nearly identical anatomical heart diagram sourced from a book aged out of copyright restrictions, and rendered in pink on a purple background. Building on the previous version, it speaks to the strength of the original vision.

“In its essence, your podcast logo should represent the show’s voice and identity,” says Ng. “If there’s any question about whether something holds up, I’d encourage visual artists to listen to the show and to reflect on how the show makes them feel — then bottle that up and place it into the square.”

Photograph of a woman with a bouffant hairdo and pink minidress, ascending a staircase while looking behind her.

Ghosted! by Roz Drezfalez is a very specific podcast: Drag queen Roz, obsessed with all things spooky, sits down with a guest each week to discuss their paranormal experiences, from hauntings to the occasional UFO encounter. The result is equal parts silly and scary, and bundling those qualities into a logo presented a unique challenge for designer Stig Greve (who has sadly never seen a ghost). Luckily, he says, Roz came in with a strong vision, providing images for a photo-centric logo that pays homage to the moody, painterly style of vintage Nancy Drew covers. The cultural reference quickly communicated the subject and tone, says Greve.

 

“That kind of evocation is gold in such a constrained format,” he adds. “It does so much heavy lifting without forcing us to use precious space with an explainer tagline.” 

When it comes to podcast artwork, Greve urges designers not to fight their medium. If you have a gorgeous photograph, let that asset do 80% of the heavy lifting and focus on the final 20% of the design. For the Ghosted! logo, Greve used Adobe Photoshop to give the image its “chunky, old YA painting feel.”


“I have a massive texture library,” says Greve. “That’s usually my first stop for making an image feel vintage. You can spend hours trying to recreate the tone and imperfections of a rumpled old piece of paper, or you can have a massive catalogue of rumpled, old pieces of paper in every conceivable style. Both are insane things to do and both work, so it’s really just down to what gels with your particular mania.” Greve’s library is a mix of originals he’s made or photographed and those he’s purchased.

He used Adobe Illustrator to block out the text. The font is Mister Twisted by Dan Zadoronzy of Iconian Fonts, which Greve chose for its flamboyant, pulpy quality as well as its readability on a small scale.

 

When it comes time to unveil your design to your client, Greve recommends to be sure they see it on a phone, not just a computer screen. Viewing artwork on a large scale can sometimes make a podcaster think they should do even more with a small space, but — less is usually better. 

Podcast: Here Be Monsters

Designer: Jeff Emtman

The letters HBM in stylized, neon gradient text on neon gradient  background, from yellow to orange to green to blue to pink to purple.
The letters HBM in stylized, neon gradient text on neon gradient  background, from yellow to orange to green to blue to pink to purple.

Jeff Emtman’s podcast Here Be Monsters doesn’t dwell on what lurks under the bed, but rather in the corners of the mind. The podcast is a compilation of personal stories, interviews, and sound art that tackles wide-ranging subject matter, including creatures, gods, and magic.

 

The subject matter is dark, says Emtman, but not scary. He didn’t want to lean into what he calls the “Halloween-y” association of the word “monsters”. So he set out to design a bright, welcoming logo.

The result was a type-forward creation featuring the podcast’s title acronym arrayed against a gradient backdrop of brilliant colors, a result that is both architectural and eye-catching.

 

“Love it or hate it, I wanted it to be instantly recognizable,” says Emtman. “I think I succeeded in that goal.”

 

There were small things that nagged him about it, though, and he recently carried out a subtle re-design. Many people had trouble discerning the original lettering from the background. It was also “a bit of a nightmare for people with colorblindness,” he says, and the original font had inconsistent corners and other imperfections that needed to be addressed. 

He was able to solve both problems by designing new lettering from scratch. He gave himself a crash course in isometric grids, snapping, and vector pen tools, and created something more consistent. He addressed the accessibility issue by applying a semi-transparent fill on the letters and black semi-transparent fill on the extrusions. That had the added benefit of making the logo suitable for monochrome use, as well. Finally, he tweaked the yellow a bit (“too bright”) and the magenta, which he felt was not “magenta-y enough.”

When he’s not working on Here Be Monsters, Emtman teaches other podcasters how to edit audio, and believes the advice he offers them also applies to the visual design process.

 

"Twist all the knobs until it's real bad, then twist all the knobs until it's real good," he says. “Creativity isn't anything like driving a car. When you're learning to drive a car, you need to be cautious, so that you don't run anyone over or hurt yourself. Art isn't like that. The danger in art comes from being too comfortable for too long.”

Podcast: Scam Goddess

Designer: Aaron Nestor

Photographer: Robyn Von Swank

Beautiful black woman wearing a red dress and crown, hands in prayer,  stares off into  the distance. She’s backlit and illuminated. Text reads SCAM  GODDESS in white.
Beautiful black woman wears a crown and holds her red dress in her  hands, while looking directly at the camera. She’s backlit and illuminated.

Once the final images are selected, they often find their way to Aaron Nestor, a designer who has been working with Earwolf since 2010.

 

Much of the company’s logo design focuses on the talents behind the shows, and Nestor—an illustrator at heart who loves sketching with a freshly sharpened pencil— has come to love the power of good portrait photography, such as the striking imagery behind the Scam Goddess podcast. 

 

Along with the final image, Nestor received specific visual references to play off, including Beyoncé imagery and a promo for the show Fleabag, both of which referenced religious themes, such as candles and illuminated text. (In the chosen portrait, Mosley is wearing an Amaroq crown that Von Swank had made for her own wedding. The result, she says, is that Mosley “looked like a legit goddess.”)

Nestor learned from experience to never work “destructively” with an image — he advises the liberal use of Photoshop's smart objects, filters, layers, and masks, all of which allow you to edit an image without losing quality because the transforms won’t affect the original data. “If you can avoid permanently altering something, holy heck will you be happy when you need to revert to an unedited version.”

 

Nestor carried the playfully pious iconography through to the text, tinkering with script-like fonts and black letter gothics, and finally settling on Mason Sans OT, which has a weighty, medieval feel.


When photography and design mesh, the effect can be powerful.

Scam Goddess is part of Earwolf, one of the biggest comedy networks out there. On the show, comedian Laci Mosley chats with guests about the outrageous world of scams, hashing over the bizarre details of everything from the infamous Fyre Festival fraud to historical swindles.

 

Photographer Robyn Von Swank, who shot Mosley’s portrait for the logo and has also shot many Earwolf personalities, knows that many won’t see it bigger than a thumbnail.

“I try to make my portraits as interesting as possible at that size,” says Von Swank. “And if it makes sense for the theme I will use either punchy color or an intense edge light to pop out the subject. Often, both!”

 

While taking care to prioritize the initial concept for her clients, she’ll also shoot a few images in different styles so there’s extra imagery to use for PR; sometimes, those even end up being the logo art. When she’s ready to edit, she’ll do an overall color correction and other tweaks using Adobe Camera Raw viewer and Adobe Bridge, and then send it to the client for review. Once images are approved, she takes them into Adobe Photoshop for a general retouch using a combination of the Clone tool and Patch tool, cleaning up stray hairs and the like, before applying a combination of finishing techniques that she’s perfected and turned into actions.

 

“I like to keep people as natural as possible,” says Von Swank. “I just give them a little polish for a more commercial look.”

Beautiful black woman wearing a red dress and crown, hands in  prayer, stares off into the distance. She’s backlit and illuminated. Text reads  SCAM GODDESS in white.

“I love to look at that little square box,” says Von Swank. “I feel like when you click on it, it opens, and all your favorite voices and stories just pour right out. It's a strange feeling of tangibility, even though it's digital.”

Interviews were conducted over email and condensed and edited for clarity and length. 

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