Episode Artwork vs Show Artwork on Podcasts

Episode Artwork vs Show Artwork on Podcasts

In recent weeks and months, a lot of major podcasts have belatedly started adding “Episode Artwork” to their titles. Podcasts have long had artwork of course – a square shaped image that is used to accompany the title of a podcast and is seen in most podcast apps. This is what Apple refers to as the “Show Cover” – or a singular image that represents your show’s feed.

But with iOS 17 which launched last year, Apple Podcasts finally adopted Episode Artwork as well – that is, artwork that is specific to that particular episode of a podcast. So if you have a particular guest or subject that an episode is discussing, you could include that in the accompanying episode artwork.

Apple was pretty late to the game with this, the RSS standard having long allowed for Episode Artwork, and with many other podcast apps having previously adopted it.

But with Apple Podcasts finally getting there, many podcast producers who hadn’t previously bothered have now started including it.

However, I’m not sure that everyone is doing it “right” – or at least adopting some simple best practices that might make it work better across all podcast platforms. And in particular, I’m going to point a finger at The Daily from the New York Times, who have recently started adding Episode Artwork to their episodes. A reminder that according to Edison Research, The Daily is the third biggest podcast in the US.

Here’s a screenshot from Pocket Casts, my preferred app for listening to podcasts:

I tend to default to a “Filtered” view of “Everything” in Pocket Casts because it gives me a reverse chronological feed of all the most recent episodes of titles that I subscribe to. Going down the list from the top, you can see a new episode of The Town, The Book Club, Pivot, and then…? Well that’s Emmanuel Macron, I think, although the image is small (more on this particular image shortly). The title of the episode leads me to believe that it must be Macron. But what podcast is this?

You can probably surmise that it is in fact, The Daily, but that’s not possible to discern from this view.

And although I’m in the minority, I do subscribe to a lot of podcasts. So it’s not as though The Daily is the only daily release dropping into my feed.

Below The Daily is a three part series from The Cycling Podcast, and even if the wording is a bit blurry because the thumbnail is smaller, you can see that I’m currently listening to an episode of The Rest is Entertainment.

Now it’s certainly true that Pocket Casts has chosen not to display the podcast’s title alongside the episode title, but that’s perhaps because many podcasts use quite long episode titles for reasons of search engine optimisation.

Indeed, these are the top three most recent podcasts in my list as I type, and all three have episode titles so long that they don’t all get displayed in this view. Add in the podcast’s title, and I’d see even less of the episode titles, or fewer episodes could be shown on-screen at a time. And in any case, can’t most people discern a podcast’s title from its artwork?

But what’s noticeable for that Macron episode of The Daily, is that the New York Times has chosen not to include the show’s logo in the photo they’re using as Episode Artwork.

Why wouldn’t they do that?

With the disclaimer that I don’t really use Apple Podcasts to listen to podcasts with, here’s what the closest equivalent to how I use Pocket Casts looks like on the app, showing the Up Next queue:

In this view, Episode Artwork is not used, and the regular Show Cover is adopted. You can also see that it’s the Show Cover that is used for the thumbnail in the player at the bottom.

If you click through to the episode itself, then the Episode Artwork is utilised.

And yes, the image has been changed since the episode first went live yesterday. That’s probably editorially correct since Macron himself certainly isn’t emblematic of “France’s Far Right,” so an image incorporating Marine Le Pen is a better choice.

I would also note that Apple also uses Episode Artwork within it’s Up Next carousel, embedding the Show Cover within it.

The left image shows how The Daily looks with the photo image for the Episode Artwork dominating with the Show Cover in the corner alongside the episode title and the first few words of the episode description.

On the right you can see The Cycling Podcast does include it’s show name in the Episode Artwork, as well as having the Show Cover in the corner.

Is all the text clear in that right image? No. But can I tell exactly what the show is from the Episode Artwork alone? Absolutely. The podcast’s name appears in the top-right hand corner (Disclaimer: I produce some episodes of The Cycling Podcasts. But I am not responsible for its artwork!).

Interestingly The Bugle in the middle also adopts the stylings of The Daily, not incorporating a Bugle logo within the Episode Artwork. So it too looks clean in Apple Podcasts, but is utterly unclear in Pocket Casts.

OK – so The Daily has chosen an option that makes things look neat in Apple Podcasts, but makes it look anonymous in some other podcast apps. Let’s see how things look in Spotify which depending on whom you ask is either the most used/listened to podcast app, or is the second most used/listened to.

Again, I have to insert a massive proviso here- I don’t use Spotify to listen to podcasts. Indeed, playing around with it for the purposes of writing this piece, I found it quite irritating. I just don’t understand how navigate it easily, and nor do I understand how to find the most recent episodes of podcasts I subscribe to on the platform.

Spotify also uses a combination of Show Covers and Episode Artwork. On the left at the top, you can see Show Cover within the New Episodes section. Then further down the page in Episodes For You, the Episode Artwork is used. In this instance, the title of the podcast is below the episode title. But relatively little of the episode title can be seen here by default. In this instance, I think having the show’s logo within the artwork would be beneficial towards getting me to play the episode. The podcast’s title is in a less distinct font styling, so it’s still not instantly apparent from the image that this is an episode of The Daily.

(Note that because I pressed play and then paused the episode the previous day, the previous version of the Episode Artwork is still in the player!)

On the right, within the Podcasts section of Spotify, the Show Cover is prioritised, with an animation and auto-generated captions for the episode animated.

Within the show’s page on Spotify, the Episode Artwork is prioritised, and then on the episode page, the Episode Artwork is used, with the Show Cover minimised as a thumbnail.

Overall, I would say that it’s a mixed bag on Spotify. You can usually see what the podcast’s title is without using the artwork. But particularly in the Episodes For You section, a logo in the Episode Artwork would go a long way.

Elsewhere, Amazon Music uses both Show Covers and Episode Artwork, with the latter becoming more of the default once you’ve subscribed/followed a show.

Note that a new episode of The Daily on doping within swimming was released as I was conducting these tests. So we’ve moved on from the French far right in the imagery.

Interestingly, YouTube Music prefers a landscape video format image. And The Daily has adopted a different image format for its Show Cover altogether. Careful examination of The Daily’s RSS Feed shows that there are two versions of Episode Artwork to be found within the feed: itunes:image and media:thumbnail, the latter of which gives you this alternative version of the artwork and is designed specifically with 16:9 displays in mind.

The media:thumbnail image includes a New York Times logo on the hero Episode Artwork image, then a presenter image and the Show Cover. This is much clearer to my mind than the square version being used on other non-Apple platforms. The Daily is obviously producing both square and 16:9 versions of its Episode Artwork at the same time, and indeed platforms like Libsyn allow producers to upload two versions of logos during the publishing process. It’s all part of the RSS format.

What isn’t clear to me is why the branding is excluded from the square version when it is included in the 16:9 version.

I also looked at Castbox and Overcast, two other popular podcast apps.

Castbox’s use of Show Covers and Episode Artwork works as I’d expect.

On the other hand, Overcast doesn’t seem to use Episode Artwork at all in my testing.


My personal view from looking at all these podcast apps and the use of Show Covers versus Episode Artwork is that you really should do some testing in multiple apps to see how your podcast appears to listeners – both subscribers/followers and those who have yet to discover it. That means using iOS and Android phones, and checking out your branding within all the major podcast listening apps.

Recall that all this started when I began to see effectively unidentifiable episodes of podcasts in my feed. And I have to tell you that if I can’t work out what your podcast is, I’m much less likely to listen to it.

I believe that you should include show branding within your Episode Artwork on a consistent basis.

Also consider how the artwork is going to appear in screens which podcast listeners tend to use the most. It’s all very well for your hero Episode Artwork to look good on the episode landing page where the show notes are to be found. But I’m willing to bet that this is not a page many users are looking at all that often. Users are probably clicking directly on episodes from home pages, queues, filters or up next pages.

Don’t design your Show Artwork with a single app in mind.

Apple does provide some guidelines for how you should use episode art. But these are very much from Apple’s perspective, and reflect how the artwork will appear in Apple Podcasts. They do not consider how the artwork will appear in Spotify or other apps. Some comments on these guidelines:

  • Fill the entire template with art.
    No problem with this.
  • Give your episode artwork a distinct visual branding separate from your show and channel artwork. Do not use your show cover as episode art because the two will be displayed together.
    They will appear together in Apple Podcasts, but not necessarily in other apps. Might more consistent branding work better in other apps? Certainly you shouldn’t include the same artwork for both Show and Episode, but one might reflect the stylings of the other.
  • Episode titles are displayed in the UI under the artwork, so avoid repeating the episode title in the episode art.
    Again, that’s true for Apple, but not always true for other apps. Also, Apple does truncate longer episode titles in some instances, so it may not always be clear what an episode is about at all.
  • Keep all essential design elements within the Art Safe Area. Anything placed outside of the Art Safe Area is subject to cropping and or UI overlays.
    These are safe areas for the Apple ecosystem. That does not mean that your art is “safe” for Spotify or other apps.
Apple’s designated Art Safe Area

Beyond these guidelines, here are other considerations.

Consider sizes of graphical images and words. Some of the logos I’ve presented on this page are very small, and not very legible. Yet all the screenshots were taken from a massive 6.7″ Android phone (the exceptions being the iOS apps – Apple Podcasts and Overcast which were screen-grabbed from a smaller device). So if a logo appears small on this blog, it’s going to appear small on most devices.

Consider too how busy your logo is. Is the imagery clean? Does the lettering standout? I appreciate that you sometimes have to include your show’s name, your production company’s name/logo, the name of the presenter(s) and maybe even a sponsor’s name all in that little square. In which case, good luck!

Having both a square and a 16:9 version of artwork in your RSS feed is very sensible when apps like YouTube will pick it up and use the better looking version in places like TV screens.

But at the very least, put a show logo in your Episode Artwork – ideally the top-right or top-left hand corners. But not right at the top.

Note: This critique is based on various podcast apps’ behaviours at the time of writing. All of these apps are likely to make ongoing changes to their appearance, so if you’re coming to this article in the future, it may all be completely outdated!