99% Invisible ★★★★★
When I listen to Roman Mars’ phenomenal show, 99% Invisible, I feel like I’m being let in on a secret. The secrets are the whats and whys behind things we see everyday. There is design and intent behind everything in the world-just let Mars soothingly convince you over 20 or 30 minutes that there is a fascinating backstory. 99% Invisible is a show you should listen to, so you can understand what it is. I guarantee you will listen to an episode and think “WOW, I didn’t think this particular topic would be that interesting, but I’m now fascinated by what went into designing it!”
You’ll have to tell someone about what you learned. You’ll be like a 12 year-old kid asking mom, “Did you know that there was a sorta secret room in a Munich library that kept controversial books out of the hands of the general public? People didn’t even know it was right in front of them!” This is just one of the secrets I loved being “in on” and in fact my favorite part of that episode (number 203: The Giftschrank) was the simple piece of information dropped at the end of the show, that Mein Kampf’s copyright expired, and it is now available on the internet, but there is an a version of the book with 1,500 pages of footnotes disproving everything in the book. How fascinating! The abbreviated accompanying guide to the audio show on the 99PI website adds: “Looking inside, there is no way to mistake this for anything but an object of scholarly study, and readers must work through layers of critique. It is almost as if the publishers have wrapped a kind of portable Giftschrank around the new edition of Mein Kampf so that it can be more safely sent out into the world.” Take me away and into this story, please.
I started listening to the show around the 170th episode, but as the beautifully-designed website states in a so-well-thought-out FAQ section, you can go forward or backward in any direction with this show and find yourself at home (or rather, down a rabbit hole of more and more 99PI episodes). The show started way back in 2010 and I’m sure it has been incredibly popular since its inception, because it’s likely that once you’ve heard a single episode, you will want to hear more. A recent episode on “Flying Food” explored how and why food looks good in advertising. Not something you’re likely to type into a Google search, but when you listen to it, you realize, “Wow, I see ads like that all the time – and there’s a really interesting story behind how they get the food to look like that.” Ka-ching! This is why 99PI exists! I love that 99PI generally sticks to the “design” theme but intersperses a few vignettes about the impact of design on a community – the people impact. It is run by a highly creative team of people: Avery Trufelman, Delaney Hall, Katie Mingle, Sharif Youssef, Kurt Kohlstedt, Taryn Mazza, and Sam Greenspan, and host Roman Mars who co-founded Radiotopia, the podcast collective of other magnificent shows that aim to “cultivate community.” What a superb initiative.
The website deserves so many accolades. In addition to the aforementioned FAQ section right on the front page that helps the new listener acquaint himself or herself with what the show is all about, there is a section on the staff members which includes links to their favorite episodes. There are also buttons at the bottom of the site to take you to episodes about general topics such as architecture, objects, sounds, and history. I love that this is a visual category list and not just words (like on the right hand side of my website)-it adds so much beauty to a website that is about DESIGN! It’s so perfect it’s worth a screenshot here:
I haven’t missed many episodes in the last several months, and I plan to keep it that way and go back and listen to some of the older episodes. A few of my favorites that I would recommend for a new listener to get a feel for what the show is all about would be Episode 205: Flying Food, Episode 193: Tube Benders, and Episode 181: Milk Carton Kids. Look, 99PI even recommends other podcasts on its site. I can’t stress enough how much I love that, because it means the creators and producers just truly love what they do and the community that is podcasting, and how commendable is it to openly recognize others in your industry and not get caught up in competition? I hope 99% Invisible is on the air for years to come, because I’m sure I still know so little about 99% of the things that surround me, and Roman Mars can shine a creative light on all that I’m missing.
What do you think of this podcast? Leave a comment below and let’s discuss!
Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (5 / 5)
Pop Culture Value (4 / 5)
Host Listen-ability (5 / 5)
Mars narrates most episodes and his friendly tone is music to my ears.
Flow & Production Value (5 / 5)
Humor (4 / 5)
The lightness of this show, largely due to Mars’ delivery of the narrative, helps turn even what you think might be the most boring topic into something fascinating and often funny.
Investigation (5 / 5)
Storytelling (5 / 5)
The short(ish) length of the episodes is a signature of Radiotopia shows, which is highly palatable for my listening taste. To be able to explain design and why the listener should care about the design of an object, sound, building, or city in 20 to 30 minutes is a hallmark of excellent storytelling ability.
Makes Me a Better Person (4 / 5)
I am a better person because I know more about the world around me. I see design in the world so differently because I listen to this show, and I am grateful for that.
Bonus Stars – infinity
See entire emotive section on the website above. I’m in heaven on this website. And I just think so much thought has gone into everything about this show; it’s very delicately deliberate–not forced down your throat, but very purposeful and careful yet topics sometimes take risks. DESIGNED!
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (5 / 5)
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