New Thing #54: 99% Invisible

99_Percent_InvisibleI stumbled into something interesting the other day. One of the guests on 'Bullseye' was Roman Mars, a radio producer who does a show called '99% Invisible'.

It was an interesting enough interview that I subscribed to that podcast and, since they're relatively short, started tearing through a few of them.

Who would have thought 'design' could be so interesting?

Yes, design. Architecture. It's a show, according to its website, that's about "the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world." It's sponsored by architectural institutes and centers.

And actually, I'll start with the website - it's a great companion to the podcast. I'm not the type of person who always checks out the accompanying website (I don't know that I've ever checked out the 'This American Life' website, for example), but when I went to 99% Invisible's site the other day I realized I'd need to check back every time I listen.

The audio of the podcast is fine, but since the show is about such visual pieces, the website provides visuals to help illustrate the little stories.

That's the next point - they're little stories. The first few are less than 5 minutes, then they range from 10-to-20 minutes, which for me are very manageable chunks.

And they're interesting - one of the earliest got me hooked - it's about the subtle line between 'sound' and 'noise', and how even the softest sound can come across as too loud if there's no background noise. (I heard this the day after my wife woke me up simply by clicking her computer mousepad - a noise that if not for the absence of every other sound I never would have noticed.) That's why, the podcast said, parks sometimes have fountains - not just because they look nice, but because they provide a little background noise so other annoyances - like traffic or machinery - aren't punctuating total silence.

That story about my wife is one of two coincidences about how I stumbled into this show at an interesting time. The other day I think someone re-tweeted something from Roman Mars across my Twitter timeline. I have no idea what the tweet was or who re-tweeted it, but the '99% Invisible' logo in his avatar stuck with me.

Then I heard the 'Bullseye' interview.

Mars himself sounded interesting - I liked the interview. '99% Invisible' is a good show, but I get the impression this is just scratching the surface of Mars' talents. (How's this for accessible - Mars mentioned on one of his podcasts that sometimes he gets too much mail to respond to everyone looking for advice about podcasting/producing, etc., so he is setting up "office hours" - a couple of hours a  month at a Kensington, California coffee shop. He feels badly he can't give everyone a response, but he's offering this to try to make up for it if people can get out there. I like it.)

I'm glad I discovered the podcast (and the website) on vacation, when I had the time to explore it a little more deeply. I hope once school starts up again I can keep up with it all.