NOTICING UNNOTICED DESIGN

As I eluded to in (one of) my first posts, I care about design. And as I said then, this is a huge statement in itself. But I'm hoping to unpack it from the perspective of a small design podcast called 99% Invisible

In the late summer of 2013 I spent an average of three hours commuting to and from work every day. To pass this time I filled my ears with podcasts like This American Life and Radiolab. On one of these commutes I was catching up on the backlog of Radiolab episodes and began listening to one entitled “Radiolab Presents: 99% Invisible.” The host Roman Mars described the show as a “tiny radio program about design and architecture and all the thought that goes into the things that people don’t think about.” I was instantly intrigued and after listening to this introductory episode I was hooked.  

Roman Mars. photo by Bert Johnson

I proceeded to download the nearly 90 episodes of the podcast and filled my commute with the beautifully created audio stories of the innovative design solutions all around us. As Mars eludes to in his introduction, his podcast has helped me notice more of the designed world around me and continues to spark my passion to design great user experiences (or solutions). As a quick aside, last March Mars gave an amazing TED talk about good design from the perspective of vexillology. I highly recommend you watch it. In it Mars reveals the five basic principles of flag design and shows why he believes they can be applied to just about anything.

Mars and his amazing team have now created over 200 episodes and most recently, they have added written pieces as well as a short video collaboration with Vox exploring the concept of Norman Doors

While I encourage you to listen to all the episodes of 99% Invisible let me direct you to a handful of my favorites.

Episode 52 : Galloping Gertie - The story the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge. It used to dance in the wind.

Episode 86 : Reversal of Fortune - The story of reversing the flow of the Chicago River. Yup, they reversed a river.

Episode 110 : Structural Integrity - The story of how a 59-story skyscraper was built with a potentially fatal flaw and how an architecture student discovered the problem. Spoiler: it didn’t collapse because they fixed it in secret.

Episode 197 : Fish Canon - The Story of wildlife corridors and designing solutions to get salmon around the nearly “88,000 water flow barriers in the country.” Yes, it’s a cannon that shoots fish!

Episode 156 : Coin Check - The story of a unique way “to show appreciation, love, sympathy, or professional connection.” And it makes a fun drinking game.

Last fall the 99PI team challenged it’s listeners to become sustaining members of the podcast network Radiotopia, of which 99% Invisible is one of its founding podcasts. It was a no-brainer for me to support 99PI and the other fantastic podcasts of Radiotopia. And to make the deal even sweeter, for being a supporting member I received a 99PI challenge coin that I now carry with great pride. 

Now, head over to 99percentinvisible.org and enjoy. I suggest you start at episode one

Wait, one last thing. If you have a podcast, book, movie, or something that has impacted how you see the world please share it by leaving a comment below. And, if you’re already a fan of 99PI, what’s your favorite episode?