The challenge in doing an audio broadcast about graphic design is that you can’t see it. But 99% Invisible, the bi-weekly podcast by Roman Mars, makes seeing design irrelevant. Using a voice-inside-your-head narration, Mars talks about the design of cities, of currency, copyright—huge topics that you could only begin to cover in a book or a lecture. But rather than trying to bring textbooks to life, Mars talks about how the design affects people personally—and finds interesting people to tell those stories.
True-crime writer John Marr talks about a bridge design that failed in the worst way a bridge can fail. This American Life’s Starlee Kine traces a pathway of inspiration that spans decades. Musician and producer Jon Brion talks about the greater implications of recorded music. And you just might want to hear the story of the best beer in the world.
But the real genius of 99% Invisible is that it tells these stories in a format that rarely exceeds fifteen minutes. It gets straight to the point, which makes listening to the episodes as habit-forming as peanuts or potato chips.
After 60 episodes, Roman Mars launched a Kickstarter to pay his staff, explaining that, “The great thing about being unexpectedly popular is that you’re popular—and the bad thing about being unexpectedly popular is that it’s expensive,” and that his costs have gone up substantially as the downloads of 99% Invisible have increased. In 24 hours, Mars had reached his goal of forty-two thousand dollars.
Here’s a shortlist of 99% Invisible episodes that you should really check out until the new season. If you have a favorite episode, I could probably talk about this show all day: @evn_johnston on a website called Twitter.
Corporations spend fortunes on design folks (like ourselves) to make their brands recognizable. So how did the Internet phenomenon known as Anonymous do it without money?
US Postal Stamps
“Get this out of your head – a stamp is not a tiny painting.” The formatting, art direction, design, and labyrinthine process of thought and care that goes into our stamps.
The Colour of Money
The classic ugliness of American currency, why it’s important to our economy, and the five areas where its design could improve.
A Cheer for Samuel Plimsoll
A graphic that has saved countless lives—really—and the man who designed it.