Meet the Filipina graphic designer for award-winning podcasts
What do a hard-hitting documentary series about the Drug War, a comedic podcast about Philippine history, and a thoughtful show on policy change have in common? Apart from all being award-winning podcasts by PumaPodcast, all these shows have the same graphic designer.
Meet Trix Casillan, the artist who has designed the branding for over 40 podcasts by PumaPodcast. A graduate of the University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts, Trix has worked on a wide range of projects, from designing podcast logos to creating social media graphics and editing Tiktok videos featuring audio clips from the podcasts.
Q: How did you get into designing for podcasts?
Trix: Before joining PumaPodcast, I worked on different design jobs, like making a book cover and designing corporate collaterals. I also worked in an engineering company as an admin assistant, and they also got me for design work within the company.
The honest answer when people ask me why I joined PumaPodcast is my older brother Marc was already working here. I didn’t listen to podcasts before, and I was wondering what my track would be if I went down this path. But when I heard about the shows of PumaPodcast and the emphasis on storytelling and journalism, I realized that there’s space for me to do important work.
Q: You were trusted to handle big projects right away. What was that like?
Trix: My first project was designing social media content for the podcast “Go Hard Girls” and their Southeast Asian Games coverage. I’m not the most sporty person, so working on that podcast was meaningful for me because I got to learn about many amazing Filipina athletes. It was personally eye-opening for me, and I felt proud to be working on content to highlight the achievements of Filipina medalists.
The documentary series “Tokhang sa Tokhang” was also one of my first projects. The challenge was we wanted to open a conversation about Duterte’s Drug War, and package it in a way where people who normally wouldn’t listen to it might be open to listening. [PumaPodcast founder] Roby Alampay has the idea to use yero (corrugated metal sheets) as the primary visual element, because the show is really about the communities affected and yero is such an immediately recognizable part of the landscape. We came up with blue and brown as the color palette of the show because we purposefully avoided colors that already had political meanings to Filipinos.
Q: What’s your process when you’re assigned a new podcast to design for?
Trix: My first step is to talk to the producer. I request for the show bible or design brief to study the show and what the feel of the show is, what the target audience is. Understanding what the episodes will sound like helps, because it’s not just about the topic, but the tone.
It’s a lot of research. I go on podcast apps and check other shows that already exist in the same category. Usually there are common themes in icons, imagery, colors, and avoiding them helps our podcast art stand out when you browse on the podcast app. But there also needs to be a balance because when you look at it, you need to understand what it’s about.
For example, our music show “Musikalikot.” We went with a bright and fun color palette to stand out because a lot of music shows at the time had black and white palettes, but we still looked to gig posters as inspiration for the illustrations and hand-drawn lettering.
Q: How much freedom do you have when it comes to podcasts for brands/clients? Or rather, how much freedom should clients be giving their designers?
Trix: It depends on the client. Some clients have very strict brand books, while some have more flexibility. Ideally, brands have to trust that we’ll follow the general guidelines, but what works for podcasting isn’t necessarily what works for their core business.
For example with Ayala Land Estates, I’m glad that their team understood that the podcast art wouldn’t look like their usual collaterals that sell real estate. For “Estate of Mind,” we took influence from cubism to show an abstract version of a city. They also have a wide color palette and they gave us the freedom to recommend what combination of colors to use for the podcast. We were choosing between bright colors and jewel tones, but ultimately went with the jewel tones because they had a more elegant feel that fits the premium branding of Ayala Land Estates.
Q: Sometimes your designs are serious, sometimes they’re playful. How did you come up with the branding for “The Imaginable Workplace,” the future of work podcast with Haraya Coaching?
Trix: I already had a previous moodboard for futuristic cityscape, and I felt that it was a good direction for “The Imaginable Workplace,” because designing better workplaces is part of the progressive future we’re all imagining. So I thought the podcast art can also be imaginative, this visualization of abstract ideas.
For the episode on mental health, we chose the brain as a common visual metaphor, and then I looked for a way to integrate it into the concept of an imagined city. Why not a colorful cloud?
The playful design is very intentional. It’s part of what I felt from the culture-building sessions we had with Haraya Coaching: fun and comfortable. The coaches create a light atmosphere and safe space, like you don’t have to be afraid or worry that it’s too serious, and I wanted that to show in the art.
Q: Sometimes you’ve also had to implement redesigns or rebranding of existing shows. Like with “What’s AP? Araling Panlipunan Rebooted,” where all we had in the past was a logo, and the hosts and producers were DIY-ing the social media content based on the colors in the logo. How did you take what’s already there and build for the future?
Trix: Personally, I didn’t see the historical-ness in the design at the time. The core colors black, red and cyan had a bold feeling that matched the tone of the show, but I felt it needed something more to tie it to history.
So that’s where old paper came in. I steered away from using black outside of the logo. There was also the challenge of not having photos for all the historical events in the show. I started making collages that incorporated different elements from the episode.
One of my favorite things I designed for “What’s AP” was a social media promo for the San Nicolas field trip episode. [The podcast’s producer] Nina suggested the Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter as a visual inspiration, and we used that to show footsteps visiting landmarks in San Nicolas, and show them in relation to one another.
Q: What tips do you have for aspiring designers who want to work in podcasting?
- Be open to inspiration outside the podcast medium. I think of what we do as similar to making book covers, and I like to look at book covers for research. Check out packaging design and posters, too.
- Immerse yourself in the story. It’s not just about the topic; the art should align with the overall tone. How do you feel when you listen to the episode?
- Embrace research. Every podcast is unique, so as a designer you need to be able to execute diverse styles for different clients.
Q: Why do visuals matter so much, when podcasts are primarily an audio product?
Trix: Because audiences can be picky! When people are scrolling through their podcast app looking for what to listen to next, the podcast art is how you stand out. If the podcast art doesn’t hook the audience, people might miss out on the show.
Podcasting may be in audio, but there’s a visual aspect to it when you engage with a podcast on the app or on social media. If you’re a brand that’s willing to invest in podcasting, investing in art is also part of setting yourself up for success.
If you’re investing in creating evergreen podcast content that people will continue to enjoy over time, it’s worth investing in quality, timeless art as well.