A great new podcast with a twist

The new podcast Wireframe is wonderful, and not just because Khoi Vinh is a great host and thoughtful designer, but what makes it remarkable is that it feels like the first sponsored podcast I’ve wanted to hear.

Gimlet’s creative studio—and a handful of other similar podcasting companies—have been partnering with brands for the past couple of years making podcasts by the sponsors themselves about their areas of expertise. So instead of say, Casper doing mattress ads on every other podcast, maybe Casper does a podcast on how to sleep better or improve your general wellness. Sounds good, right? Welp, usually they’re not that compelling.

The problem to date is they’re too thirsty. Simply put: sponsored podcasts sound like sponsored podcasts. I’ve heard a friend say the Blue Apron one was a legitimately good podcast on its own, but I haven’t heard it because the dozen or so others I’ve tried or had thrust into my feed from other shows I like tend to follow a pattern. They’re over the top advertising vehicles for their sponsors and the “meat” of the podcasts themselves aren’t that good. They put so much effort into the ad reads and not enough into the stories that make them up.

The McDonalds podcast on the development of their Schezwan sauce was a good example. It’s a newsworthy short item that could have gone in lots of ways, but ultimately, the company was so guarded and careful in what they said that it barely scratched the surface of the whole interesting story of the internet fandom of a cartoon colliding with social media and real-life stores. Instead, it was a multi-episode ad for some too-sweet sauce on forgettable chicken nuggets.

But not Wireframe! I imagine maybe it’s because Khoi is a thoughtful designer with a lot of opinions and a lot of things to say (if you haven’t caught his decade-plus of blogging, do check him out) and if Adobe wanted a podcast, they happened to pick the exact right person for it.

Whatever the case, I think it’s noteworthy and worth mentioning that it’s possible to make a sponsored podcast that doesn’t sound like one. Wireframe is a design podcast I’ve always wanted to hear and I’m impressed with what Gimlet and Adobe have created. Other companies should take note.

(also, the emoji episode embedded above is a perfect distillation of the past 20 years of emoji history and sums up a lot of issues around it in a tight 20 minutes—short compelling podcasts are really hard to do!)