Behind the ELT Art
October 15, 2018
James Cabrera here. If you’re not familiar with me, I’m Gimlet’s Visual Design Director, leading all things Gimlet is doing for your eyes.
I’m writing to give you all the lowdown on an upcoming change we’re making to one of our favorite shows, Every Little Thing. I know, I know, change can sometimes be tough but this will be an exciting one—we hope for the better. New Show Art!
Exclusively for you, our beloved Gimlet Members, I’m going to share the in-depth thought process behind how we ended up with the new ELT artwork. I’ll even share some of the rejected concepts. If you don’t want to read through the whole thing you can scroll all the way to the bottom to see the final result.
We Need New Art!
Over the summer we conducted focus group studies with potential new listeners of some of our shows to get feedback and identify areas where we can improve. One key piece of feedback we got on Every Little Thing was that when people saw the artwork, and then went on to listen to the show, their expectation of what they might get into was different than what they actually experienced.
Upon seeing the artwork, people in the study were expecting to hear something serious—when in reality the show is positioned to be quirky, light-hearted, and fun. Additionally, it wasn’t immediately obvious that the big shape was a keyhole. On top of that nobody could make out or understand what was going on inside. Only a few saw a bug or bird, and no one could clearly understand what importance, if any, they had to the show.
From this, one of our immediate action steps from a design perspective was to do a re-evaluation of the artwork.
The goals we set up for ourselves with new art were the following:
- Match the mood of the show. Make it look more fun, light-hearted, and quirky.
- Whatever image we settle on, it should be clear and legible. This should be especially true on a small scale where the art is mostly discovered (a phone screen).
- We need to do a better job conveying what the show is about, so we can do the best we can at bringing in new listeners.
Goals 1 and 2 seem pretty straight-forward and purely solvable in aesthetic execution. Let’s use lighter colors and a chunkier font. Let’s simplify the image we want to show and make it understandable without needing to explain it. We have a thing called the 3-second Test that if in 3-seconds a person can’t offer an interpretation of what an image is then it is not effective show art.
How Would You Describe The Show?
Goal 3 is a lot more complicated. If you are a listener of Every Little Thing, how would you describe what the show is to a friend who has never heard it before? We did this exercise for ourselves and landed on many many different ways of explaining the show. Here are just a few things that came to mind.
- A show about interesting facts
- A show that answers random questions of listeners
- A show that goes further into explaining things than I expected
The problem with some of these descriptions is that there are a ton of podcasts out there that can be described in the same way. We wanted to refine the way we, ourselves, described the show to get a better direction of what we should concept in designs. We landed on this description.
Every Little Thing is a show that answers burning questions you never thought you needed to know.
Turning It Into An Image
Assigned to the task of turning this into visuals was our very talented designer, Elise Harven. We began with an initial brainstorm with our marketing team, talking about objects, items, concepts that we think portrays this notion of answering questions you never thought you needed to know the answers to. A few ideas popped out.
- Trivia Questions
- It’s like Snapple cap facts
- It’s also like popsicle sticks: when you finish popsicle you get the answer
- The answers are delightful surprises. Like finding a prize you didn’t expect.
From some of these descriptors, Elise went ahead and created a bunch of wonderful concepts.
We all took a look at these as a team and in general, the majority of us liked both the “quirky flamingo collage” concept and the popsicle stick concept the best.
One of the main concerns with the popsicle stick concept is that the message we hoped to convey was not immediately readable in 3-seconds. Part of this due to it being hard to make out that the focus should be on the mystery of the question on the stick. When the art is shrunk to smaller sizes, it just looks like it might be a food show on popsicles.
The main issue we found with the “quirky flamingo collage” was that when we showed it to people we had one of two very strong emotional responses. Some people audibly laughed out loud, and for many others, they were visibly confused and didn’t like it at all.
We shared our concepts and out concerns with the ELT team to see how they felt. They pretty much had the same reactions. They liked the aesthetic and colors of the popsicle stick, and some of the team enjoyed the quirky collage while for others it wasn’t their cup of tea.
Finding A Better Concept
At this point we found ourselves stuck between a rock and hard place. From a design point of view we want to land on a concept that we all could get behind. With these concepts we felt like we didn’t quite hit that note.
Elise and I had regrouped and spent some time brainstorming ideas from scratch. Sometimes when you get to a point like this you need to go back to the drawing board. We began talking amongst ourselves on what we felt the show was about and what makes it unique. We had a very productive discussion and landed in two places.
- Things may not always be what they seem if you really look for the answers
- ELT likes to go down the rabbit hole, way further than you may have expected to go.
On point 1, Elise and I were looking through some art examples and we thought there was something really interesting in some of these pieces that cleverly illustrates this idea.
They are images of an object or scene, but with a slight change, making it not exactly what you originally thought it was. Elise tried two versions of this, one using a phone and another using a disco ball.
Point 2 felt like an idea that would very immediately solve the 3-second test. A rabbit and a hole clearly signifies what you’re going to get into. Also it could be very easy to make fun and light-hearted in its execution. Elise had presented a couple different versions of going down the rabbit hole.
We felt a lot better about these two directions than in our previous round. We shared them with the ELT team and they really liked the disco ball globe and the rabbit inside the whole with its ears poking out. We set up some Slack polls within the Gimlet office to get some votes and hot takes and it looked like we had a winner.
Most people were gravitating towards going down the rabbit hole. The concept was more direct and it elicited the right feeling from people on what the show was about.
There were a few concerns though about the rabbit looking too much like bugs bunny, or thinking it was Looney Tunes. Based on this feedback, Elise developed the ears a little bit further and tried different types of rabbits. We felt like removing the line-work and trying different styles for the rabbit could help reduce that perception.
The Final Art
Looking at this final round with the ELT team we ultimately arrived at a final decision of what we wanted the art should be.
We are looking to roll out this new artwork across all of our channels within the next week. So this is a really early sneak peek. Flora will be mentioning it in the next episode of ELT, just so all of our fans won’t be surprised when the change appears in their feeds.
If you have any questions or comments for me you can find me on twitter @jamescabrera or in the Gimlet Members Slack in the #gimlet-design channel.