|Roman Mars, 99 Percent Invisible|
by Peggy Robin
Many of my columns are about some small, seemingly unimportant thing that I think has undiscovered and intriguing facets to it, which make it either worth the time to pick apart to figure out what’s wrong with it or praise as an under-appreciated gem. Today’s column is most assuredly in the latter category – it’s about a podcast – and the reason that I like it so much is that every week it tackles some topic -- at first blush, seemingly unimportant -- and covers it in a way that reveals its undiscovered and intriguing facets, either picking it apart to say what’s wrong with it or praise as some under-appreciated gem.
The podcast is called “99 Percent Invisible” and here are a few examples of topics it has covered:
#14 The Periodic Table: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/episode-14-the-periodic-table-infographic/
#24 The Capitol Columns: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/episode-24-the-two-fates-of-the-old-east-portico/
#154 The Portland Airport Carpet: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/pdx-carpet/
The three above are examples of episodes discussing designs that are wonderful in many ways, but seldom fully appreciated. The next two are examples of the other type – episodes that point out everything that’s wrong with something familiar that has an ugly and/or ill-functioning design.
#54 The Colour of Money: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-colour-of-money-r/
#147 Penn Station Sucks: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/penn-station-sucks/
And finally, an example of what Roman Mars does better than anyone – discuss something you see every day but may never have considered at any length -- and through a few deft examples that illustrate a set of clearly articulated principles, tell you how the object could be well designed…and why it so often fails to be. In the case below, it’s about flags – and you will never look at any flag the same way again.
#140 The Vexillonaire http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/vexillonaire/
You would think someone who could so expertly cover the elements of architecture and design would need to be himself an architect or designer, but the creator/writer/host of the podcast is neither; he’s a science writer and cultural critic named Roman Mars – a name supremely suited to a fictional character, probably one with a secret alter ego and/or superpowers. He also has one of the most mellifluous voices in broadcasting, second (in my opinion) only to the owner of the smoothest radio voice of all time, DC’s own Kojo Nnamdi.
Roman Mars has done 180 episodes so far, all available to listen to or download for free at http://99percentinvisible.org/. As I’d like to help turn his small-scale podcast a big-scale phenomenon, for which he needs lots of subscribers – I hope you will sign on.
Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.