How to Design YouTube Thumbnails to Drive Views

YouTube success depends on many factors. But the first challenge that any YouTuber faces is catching the viewers’ attention.

The attention span in YouTube is a bit longer than in any other social media because the level of commitment is higher – instead of a shorter clip or instant image, you’re presented with a video that can last up to 12 hours. So people naturally tend to invest more time into the search process in order to find the right video.

Yet, with over 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, competition is tough and it’s hard to stand out. Of all the marketing mechanics that YouTube offers, only a few help put a specific video in the coveted Trending or Recommended feeds.

You can get YouTube to recommend your video by driving the view count, but how do you make people click on the video in the first place? There are only two things that can prompt clicks and these are the thumbnails and titles.

The way you design social media thumbnails   accounts for half of your potential success.

Creating compelling custom thumbnails


Here are some basic rules that can help you create great YouTube thumbnails:

Thumbnail must relate to video content

It has been confirmed numerous times by YouTube executives that thumbnails that are misleading harm your video performance, and ultimately your overall channel performance.

Thumbnails must attract attention, be engaging and tell the audience what the video is about, but they should never present false or misleading information. Clickbait thumbnails are fine, as long as they relate to video content.

Hook your viewer

The best thumbnails tell you what to expect but in a very elusive manner. You want to intrigue the audience by telling a tiny part of the story so they feel compelled to watch the rest.

Thumbnails that raise questions, hint at shocking events or create suspense tend to perform better than others.

Avoid cluttered layouts

YouTube thumbnails are small and appear even smaller in the desktop version of the application.

The best way to use such a limited space is to use one image or surround the text with lots of white space if you want to accentuate the taglines.

Keep style consistent across the channel

YouTube videos are as important as your social media images or a website.

Consistent branding isn’t going to affect the click-through rates. But once the viewers watch one of your videos, they will be more likely to click on the next one if the connected theme is obvious.

Keep the colors and fonts coherent across the channel. Try slight variations in design for videos that are part of separate playlists.

Best YouTube thumbnail examples


Custom illustrations, clear messaging and consistent use of colors make the TED-Ed YouTube channel a pleasure to watch.

Each image repeats the video title, simplifying the search for the user and ensuring they won’t miss the point. Illustrations imply that the brand puts a lot of effort into making videos. The content is always carefully curated and provides real educational value.

Lazy Dancer Tips

It’s not easy to combine graphics and images, but the Lazy Dancer Tips channel does a wonderful job.

They use bright colors, consistent fonts and short taglines that don’t necessarily repeat the video titles but still clearly communicate the content of the video. The channel owners also feature a brand logo in every video and adjust the layout based on the image crop and dimensions. Overall, it’s a perfectly structured video channel that makes the brand look fun, creative and truly dedicated to its craft.

Wong Fu Productions

Wong Fu Productions are masters in storytelling. Even though their thumbnail designs are pretty erratic, they know how to choose the right shots and position them in a way that makes you want to click on the video.

They use big fonts, bright colors and lots of special characters such as stars, arrows, and hearts.

Refinery 29

If you want to learn how to do YouTube thumbnails right, check out the Refinery channel. The brand uses a consistent color palette across all the thumbnails – usually pink for girls and blue for guys.

Add a signature font, icons, special characters, and close-up shots of the characters. This will lead to an irresistible video channel that tells the story, prompts action and creates a deep connection.

BBC Music

Since the channel revolves around artists performing on the stage, it’s not hard for BBC Music to maintain a consistent color palette – most artists perform on a stage with blue colored lights in the background.

However, BBC Music thumbnails also feature custom fonts, branded geometrical shapes and creative use of embellishments.

Jeffree Star

You might think of these thumbnails as distasteful and cluttered, but they perfectly adhere to the brand image and evoke curiosity. Jeffree Star uses lots of emojis, poses provocative questions and puts the product in the spotlight.

Certainly, the image of the channel owner is perplexing enough to make the readers click on the thumbnails. But Jeffrey also uses the colors of the background and borders to make the thumbnails pop.

Just Write

Do you run a channel that is based on reviewing other people’s work? This is one of the most lucrative models since it doesn’t require producing your own content. You simply build upon the interest already generated by someone else.

Just Write is a channel that teaches novice and professional writers the secrets of the craft. It’s thoughtfully produced and contains tons of valuable information. The author uses character images that are taken from the original source and then altered to adhere to the channel’s theme. Not only does this bring tons of fans to the channel, but it also makes the channel look cool and carefully planned.

The School of Life

There is no better way to get the point across than through gigantic white font. Most brands focus predominantly on imagery or typography, but the School of Life managed to find the perfect balance between the two – their images are just as impactful as their taglines.

Even if the video title is extremely long, the channel somehow manages to fit it all in the corresponding thumbnail. The fonts, custom illustrations, funny characters, signature colors and engaging narrators make this educational channel truly addictive.

Final Thoughts

When you look at the big picture, a thumbnail is a very small part of YouTube success, yet it’s a very important part. Luckily, YouTube has been working hard to make the life of creators easier. They have a thumbnail algorithm that helps the creators analyze and pick the best performing image.

When you design a YouTube thumbnail, think about how you want your audience to feel. Cliffhangers, a common method used by filmmakers, perfectly describe the nature of the algorithm that makes a YouTube thumbnail successful. So think about the thumbnail as an element that leaves the audience wanting more – what can you reveal and is it enticing enough for them to take the risk?

This post was written by DesignBold. DesignBold is an online graphic design tool that aims to redefine the boundaries of design and technology, empowering all users and organizations to share their visions, products, and services.


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