Better Podcasts: Design Quality Matters

Design is about looking and sounding good. The stuff in Audio Quality Matters will help with sounding good, but I’d add a couple of comments about intros, outros and other audio widgets.

Audio Design

Your intro needs to be cool. Couple of days ago I got an email from a Dutch paramedic asking for an audio file of just the intro to EMS Newbie. I don’t take any credit for that intro, it was created by the awesome Marc Moorash my audio guy. If you want to hear just the intro without my voice over is now available on the podcast page. Another example of a cool intro is the new Ambulance Matters podcast intro made by Thaddeus Setla.

Intro doesn’t need to be too long. How long is two long? I don’t know but I know it when I hear it. Keep it tight. Move from thing to thing without dwelling too long. Listen to it over and over – your listeners will – and when you get bored with it you know that’s too long.

Tell me what I’m listening to as soon as I hit play. Both my podcasts have a one line voice over that says the podcast name, episode title and episode number at the very beginning, before the intro music even starts.

Graphic Design

You need things to look good. There are two big places this falls down with podcasts, Album Art and Site Design.

Album Art

A lot of people are listening to your podcast on a smart phone or at least an MP3 player with a video display. In those cases when they look down they see the album art of the MP3 file that is playing. On the iPhone podcasts are listed with that album art showing. Again, you need to look cool.

Get a good logo or title image. Confessions started out with a funny image drawn by a friend of mine, showing the newbie in the background carrying a bunch of stuff and the guru in the foreground. Says something about the podcast. We’ll be announcing a new logo next week at the Texas EMS Conference, which will replace it.

Images are also good. I find a good photograph of the hosts makes an excellent draw in iTunes. My Photographer and Model logo is of me and my co-host on a dark blue background. Really stands out. And for each episode we have a different piece of cover art. An image of the interviewee for the episode. Nothing like hot models to draw in the listener.

MP3 Title

Not really audio or design related, but important. Look at your podcast on the iPhone. Preferably when there are more than one episode there. Is the title you see in that list exactly the same for every episode? This happens when you include the name of your podcast at the front of each title. Change this so listeners can read the show title.

Also does it get clipped? On the photographer and model podcast the title is the kind of guest we have and their name. I discovered that if you said “Photographer Joe Blow”, the word photographer was all you saw on your iPhone. So I shortened it to “Photog”. I even had a complaint from a photographer asking me to change it because he hated photog. After explaining it he was OK with it.

Another thing that pushes the title to the right and off the screen is using the complete word “Episode”. That will push things right. Just use “Ep”.

Site Design

People are going to go to your website. When they do it should look good and be easy to use. Too many podcast websites are the redheaded stepchild of blogs.

One thing I’ve learned in 15 years as a software engineer is that engineers aren’t designers. Neither are most podcasters. Creating good design/art is a skill. For those people with it, good design comes effortlessly. For the rest of us it doesn’t come at all.

It would be cool if you could afford to go to 99Designs and have a contest to get a custom WordPress theme made by a professional designer, but that isn’t always possible. So buy some prepackaged design in the form of a theme. Generally the best cost some money, but not too much and they are worth it.

You need to look up to date. I’ve been to a few sites that look like they were written in the 1990s and haven’t changed yet. Use CSS and styles and look like you are in the 21st century.

Use your logo elements on the website. This makes sure people know they are in the right place when they get there. If the design, including colors, elements and logos, are the same on the site and in the MP3 artwork you are good.

In the next post we’re going to talk about site design from the viewpoint of organization and usability.

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