What did you do before joining Spotify Design? That’s the question at the crux of our first Spotify Design podcast, Past Lives, a series dedicated to exploring the unexpected and interesting careers of our designers before coming to Spotify.
Co-produced by Shamik Ray, Principal Designer and Eda Yu, UX Writer, Past Lives was a new, exciting project to work on. With the help of Maggie Zhang as project manager, we navigated creating our first-ever podcast for Spotify.Design, learning about production, live interviewing, and podcast branding along the way. We also used Spotify tools, skilling up on Soundtrap and Anchor from scratch and using them for different parts of the process from recording to distribution, which helped turn our podcast dream into a reality.
The idea for the series first came to Shamik early this year. He wanted to explore what people on our design team did before joining the tech industry. Our core goal on Spotify.Design is to raise up and amplify individuals in our design org, and Past Lives felt like a great opportunity for the wider design community to get to know our team.
Proposing the podcast
To get started, we created a formal proposal for the podcast that included an outline of our production process, an interview discussion guide, and a potential episode list.
This was all new to us, so creating a real, concrete slide deck helped us distill which steps to take in order to get the ball rolling.
After Past Lives was given the green light by Spotify Design’s Editorial Board, we reached out to five potential guests, began searching for a host, and put together a loose episode structure. We found the episode structure particularly helpful when starting to think about sound design elements or how the different parts of our podcast would fit together.
Preparing for the interviews
For this pilot, we chose an interview host who didn’t work at Spotify, Rhiannon Atkins. Rhiannon's voice and style were perfect for the light, casual nature of the show. And because she didn't work at Spotify, she had no prior knowledge of the interviewees. We gave her discussion guides, but as the series progressed, she began freestyling more—adding in her own follow-ups and questions to conversation points that stuck out to her. Throughout the series, Rhiannon did a great job of steering the conversation and making participants feel comfortable, which helped us create an environment where our guests felt free to share openly and honestly.
Remote recording setup
Since we couldn’t meet in-person with the ongoing pandemic, we had to figure out the best way to record quality audio of our guests’ voices. We shipped microphones to all of our guests, which made a huge difference in how they sounded. For future recordings, we learned that it’s helpful to provide more guidance to participants around setting up the microphone before the interview starts or to walk through setting up their audio equipment with them at the beginning of each recording session.
Post-production: Editing and sound design
We were fortunate to have the support of Andreas Pejler, an Associate Product Manager at Soundtrap, who helped us put together the intro and outro for our episodes. We went with a simpler approach, rather than investing heavily in more immersive sound design.
Looking back, we could have benefited from incorporating more sound design elements throughout each show. Different sound effects could break up the cadence of each episode, making it feel more dynamic.
We used an audio transcription tool to generate transcripts of each recording, so we could easily understand which parts to cut and the focus area of each story. Shamik edited each episode, which took about 4-6 hours, and Eda cut together the intro, trailers, and outros. Having exports of each person’s individual audio available to download on Soundtrap helped streamline the process.
Show branding and rollout
We realized that quality artwork would be crucial for this podcast, since we want it to feel part of our overall Spotify Design brand and also stand out on various platforms. We worked with illustrator Simon Child to create personable illustrations of objects that represented the focus of each episode. Each piece of show art showcased a significant part of the guests’ experience, while bringing a fun human element to the cover. In addition to visual branding, Eda crafted the show titles and descriptions for each of the episodes, giving just enough information away to draw listeners in.
Launching the podcast
Before launching to the public, we first introduced Past Lives within our Spotify Design community because we thought the podcast would be a great way for everyone to learn more about each other. We received positive feedback, and were delighted to find that our podcast inspired an internal First Thursdays event—a monthly design get-together—specifically focused on designers’ “past lives.”
As part of our internal rollout, each week we released a “Guess Who?” competition on Fridays, where we shared a sneak peek of the episode and asked people to guess who the guest might be. It was a fun way to get the community engaged.
Now, we’re excited to finally share Past Lives with you all! We hope you find it helpful, interesting, and inspiring. We believe that sharing our designers’ stories will help break down barriers or preconceived notions that there’s only one right path to building a career in design.
Rhiannon Atkins, for being our fearless podcast host this pilot season.
Andreas Eklundh Pejler, for composing the soundscape for the show.
Simon Child, for creating beautiful branding and cover art design.
Samwoo Ee, for being our in-house podcasting expert and mentor.
Rob Nero, for setting us up for success in Soundtrap.
Nanci Veitch, for clearing away the harder things and lending unflinching support throughout the journey.
Spotify Design Editorial Board, for feedback and fist bumps along the way.
Our pilot participants, for sharing their great spirit and awesome stories with us all.