Featured

Free podcast player

Limited Time Offer

 

Loading…

99% Invisible podcast

99% Invisible

Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we've just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars. Learn more at 99percentinvisible.org.

Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we've just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars. Learn more at 99percentinvisible.org.

 

#527

474- The Punisher Skull

The Punisher has always been a complicated Marvel antihero: a man whose creator imagined him as a reaction to the failures of government at home and in the Vietnam War. So why is the Punisher’s trademark dripping skull insignia — a menacing image used throughout history to denote imminent death — being painted on police vehicles, adopted by members of the military, and donned by white supremacists? This episode of [Endless Thread] (https://www.wbur.org/endlessthread/2021/10/29/memes-punisher) explores the story of The Punisher’s symbol [ as a meme] (https://www.reddit.com/r/comicbooks/comments/oro4e7/found_in_the_wild_how_i_feel_about_the/) , and looks at how well we understand its origins, its use today, and whether its creator — or Marvel — can take it back. ... Read more

25 Jan 2022

39 MINS

39:39

25 Jan 2022


#526

473- Mini-Stories : Volume 14

At the end of the calendar year and into the new year the 99pi staff collects a bunch of short, joyful little stories that are fun to produce and make us happy. We call them mini-stories. This is the third and final episode of this batch and the 14th volume overall and it’s a good one- we have surprisingly architectural sport commentary, Ben Franklin’s role in Daylight Saving Time, and the origin story of the fire pole. [Mini-Stories : Volume 14] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38482&post_type=episode) ... Read more

19 Jan 2022

35 MINS

35:36

19 Jan 2022


#525

472- Mini-Stories : Volume 13

We're kicking off the new year at 99pi with a fresh installment of mini-stories, including: a strange collision of mundane infrastructure and political insurrection; a graphic design history mystery dating back to the 1980s; what may be the most hated architectural design of 2021; and a record-breaking album cover design so cutting edge it cost more money to make than to buy. [Mini-Stories: Volume 13] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38474&post_type=episode) Get [Beauty Pill's Instant Night] (https://beautypill.bandcamp.com/album/instant-night) Get [New Order's Blue Monday] (https://store.neworder.com/uk/blue-monday-vinyl.html) ... Read more

12 Jan 2022

50 MINS

50:28

12 Jan 2022


#524

471- Mini-Stories : Volume 12

It's that time of year again! When 99pi producers and friends of the show join Roman to tell shorter stories, many of which have been sitting on our idea shelves, just waiting for this moment. Our first set of minis delves into the surprisingly controversial logo of a major sports league; a wild goose chase into erroneous statistics; the largely forgotten arts competitions of the Olympic Games; and a Modernist penguin pool that is beloved by preservationists but not so adored by actual penguins. And this is the first batch of our turn-of-the-year mini-stories. Tune back in for more minis at the beginning of 2022! [Mini-Stories: Volume 12] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38428&post_type=episode) ... Read more

22 Dec 2021

47 MINS

47:18

22 Dec 2021


#523

470- The Three Santas of Slovenia

Slovenia is a small country in Central Europe nestled between Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary. It's a land of snowy white peaks, green valleys, and turquoise rivers. The country is beautiful in all seasons, but it is perhaps at its most magical around Christmastime. This nation of just over 2 million people is visited by, not one, not two, but three different "santas" every festive season. But it hasn't always been this way. Each Santa has had his moment in the spotlight—each in a different period of Slovenia’s complicated history. And in order to have a Christmas season that reflects that history and speaks to all Slovenians, you need three magical men. [The Three Santas of Slovenia] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38383&post_type=episode) ... Read more

15 Dec 2021

38 MINS

38:00

15 Dec 2021


#522

469- The Epic of Collier Heights

For Black Americans, Collier Heights became a suburban jewel in the postwar South spanning thousands of acres and packed with nature. Just as amazing as the expansive beauty is how this neighborhood came to be, especially given everything that stood in the way. Collier Heights was established in the early 1950s, when redlining and racial zoning all put hard limits on where black people could live. Driving its development was a team of community leaders who used cold, sharp strategy, flipping the logic of Jim Crow housing segregation on its head. [The Epic of Collier Heights] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38330&post_type=episode) ... Read more

07 Dec 2021

43 MINS

43:24

07 Dec 2021


#521

468- Alphabetical Order

In much of the western world, alphabetical order is simply a default we take for granted. It’s often the one we try first -- or the one we use as a last resort when all the other ordering methods fail. It’s boring, but it works, and it’s so ingrained that it’s hard to imagine not using it. But despite its endurance for most of its history, the alphabet wasn’t initially used to order much of anything. Judith Flanders, author of A Place For Everything, a history of alphabetical order, says that in societies like ancient Rome and early medieval Europe, writing implements were still rare. So what mattered most was organizing knowledge in a way that helped you to memorize it. And that was usually much easier to do in the order you naturally came across the information, like: chronologically, or by size, or geography, or region, or hierarchically. [Alphabetical Order] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38299&post_type=episode) ... Read more

01 Dec 2021

32 MINS

32:00

01 Dec 2021


#520

467- Cute Little Monstrosities of Nature

The French bulldog is now the second most popular breed in America. Their cute features, portable size, and physical features make for a dog that can easily travel and doesn't require a lot of exercise. But these characteristics sometimes have a detrimental effect on the dog's health. Tove K. Danovich writes "Rather than requiring human owners to change their lives to accommodate a new dog, the French bulldog is a breed that’s been broken to accommodate us." Historically, dogs were bred for functional reasons, not aesthetics. But evaluating a breed based on how they accomplish a task is tricky, leading to the rise of visual standards more easily judged. As breed standards were formalized, purebred dogs grew in popularity and became a luxury of sorts; but with a limited genetic pool, this popularity naturally led to a lot of inbreeding to maintain breed consistency. [Cute Little Monstrosities of Nature] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?post_type=episode&p=38283) ... Read more

23 Nov 2021

26 MINS

26:29

23 Nov 2021


#519

466- The Weight

Fitness trends come and go. But the simple weight is an anchor in the shifting tides of culture. As workout equipment has become canonized within the realm of home appliances, this heavy metal object aids in our dual — and sometimes conflicting — pursuit of athletics and aesthetics. In season 2 of the [Nice Try!] (https://www.curbed.com/2021/10/nice-try-interior-podcast-avery-trufelman-latest-episode.html) podcast, show host and former 99pi producer [Avery Trufelman] (https://99percentinvisible.org/author/avery-trufelman/) heads inside the home, interrogating how individuals channel utopian ambitions through the lifestyle technologies and home goods that determine the ways we clean, cook, exercise, and sleep in order to lead better lives. But the problems these objects are designed to solve, and the way they solve them, promote a distinctly American ideal that prioritizes personal betterment over improving society as a whole. ... Read more

17 Nov 2021

45 MINS

45:40

17 Nov 2021


#518

465- Shirley Cards

Even if we think of the camera as a neutral technology, it is not. In the vast spectrum of human colors, photographic tools and practices tend to prioritize the lighter end of that range. One example of this bias was Kodak's Shirley Card, a reference photo used to calibrate photo printing machines.  For decades all of the models on the Shirley Cards were white. This meant that photographs of people with darker skin tones were often not printed correctly. But that's just one example of the limited dynamic range of photography purposefully excluding people with darker skin. [Shirley Cards] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38234&post_type=episode) ... Read more

10 Nov 2021

32 MINS

32:18

10 Nov 2021


#517

464- Finding Julia Morgan

Born in 1872, American architect and engineer Julia Morgan designed hundreds of buildings over her prolific career, famous for her work on incredible structures like the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. She was also the first woman to be admitted to the architecture program at l'École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the first woman architect licensed in California. But it wasn't until 2014 that she became the the first woman to receive American Institute of Architects’ highest award, the AIA Gold Medal, posthumously. In the [New Angle: Voice] (https://bwaf.org/resources/podcast) podcast, "Hear from historians, family, colleagues, and the women themselves, how it was to be an architect coming up in the early 20th century. Imagine sitting with these pioneering women, who opened up the magic of the built environment professions to all who had the gifts, grit and persistence to endure." ... Read more

02 Nov 2021

42 MINS

42:10

02 Nov 2021


#516

463- Fifty-Four Forty or Fight

At a glance, the border between the United States and Canada would seem to be at the friendlier end of the international boundary spectrum. But even though the US-Canada border is now pretty tame, when two countries touch each other over a stretch of 5500 miles, it can result in some surprisingly weird disputes, misunderstandings,  geographical quirks and ...really good stories.  [Fifty-Four Forty or Fight] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38152&post_type=episode) ... Read more

26 Oct 2021

43 MINS

43:36

26 Oct 2021


#515

462- I Can't Believe It's Pink Margarine

Margarine is yellow, like butter, but it hasn't always been. At times and in places, it has been a bland white, or even a dull pink. These strange variations were a byproduct of 150-year war to destroy margarine, and everything that it stands for. During this epic fight for survival, margarine has had to reinvent itself, over and over again.  [I Can't Believe It's Pink Margarine] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38120&post_type=episode) ... Read more

19 Oct 2021

26 MINS

26:32

19 Oct 2021


#514

461- Changing Stripes

Rioters carried many familiar flags during the January 6th insurrection at the United States Capitol -- Confederate, MAGA, as well as some custom-made ones like a flag of Trump looking like Rambo. Except for onlookers who were already familiar with the design, it would have been easy to overlook one particular bright yellow flag with three red horizontal stripes across the center. This was the flag of South Vietnam. There were actually several confounding international flags present at the Capitol riot that day: the Canadian, Indian, South Korean flags, all were spotted somewhere in the mayhem. But what was peculiar about the Vietnamese flag being there was that it's not technically the flag of Vietnam but the Republic of Vietnam, a country that no longer exists. And what this flag stands for (or should stand for) remains a really contentious issue for the Vietnamese American community. [Changing Stripes] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38059&post_type=episode) ... Read more

12 Oct 2021

31 MINS

31:30

12 Oct 2021


#513

323- The House that Came in the Mail Again

The Sears & Roebuck Mail Order Catalog was nearly omnipresent in early 20th century American life. By 1908, one fifth of Americans were subscribers. Anyone anywhere in the country could order a copy for free, look through it, and then have anything their heart desired delivered directly to their doorstep. At its peak, the Sears catalog offered over 100,000 items on 1,400 pages. It weighed four pounds. Today, those 1,400 pages provide us with a snapshot of American life in the first decade of the 20th century, from sheep-shearing machines and cream separators to telephones and china cabinets. The Sears catalog tells the tale of a world -- itemized. And starting in 1908, the company that offered America everything began offering what just might be its most audacious product line ever: houses.   Buy [The 99% Invisible City] (https://99percentinvisible.org/book/) ! ... Read more

05 Oct 2021

33 MINS

33:07

05 Oct 2021


#512

460- Corpse, Corps, Horse and Worse

When it comes to English spelling and pronunciation, there is plenty of rhyme and very little reason. But what is the reason for that? Why among all European languages is English so uniquely chaotic today? To help us answer that question, we spoke with linguist and longtime friend of the show, Arika Okrent, author of the new book [Highly Irregular: Why Tough, Through, and Dough Don't Rhyme and Other Oddities of the English Language.] (https://amzn.to/3AMPH8M) In it, Arika explores the origins of those phonetic paradoxes, and it turns out some of the reasons for confusion are as counterintuitive as the words themselves. [Corpse, Corps, Horse and Worse] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38032&post_type=episode) ... Read more

28 Sep 2021

30 MINS

30:29

28 Sep 2021


#511

459- Yankee Pyramids

Presidential libraries are tributes to greatness, "[a] self-congratulatory, almost fictional account of someone's achievements, where all the blemishes are hidden," explains one New York architect.  But they're also a "weird mix of a historical repository of records and things that have a lot of meaning." Studying their origins and evolution, one can begin to see how presidential libraries have always involved tensions and contradictions. [Yankee Pyramids] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=38002&post_type=episode) The premise of using the extreme example of Trump to heighten the contradictions of executive branch norms is what we do on Roman's other podcast [What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law] (https://trumpconlaw.com) . It's good! And it's not really about Trump, so don't worry. It's essentially a current events based Constitutional Law class taught by an incredible professor, Elizabeth Joh. We included the latest episode here for you to check out.    ... Read more

21 Sep 2021

1 HR 04 MINS

1:04:26

21 Sep 2021


#510

458- Real Fake Bridges

The great Jacob Goldstein, author of [Money: The True Story of a Made Up Thing] (https://amzn.to/2XcGQhF) , stops by to tell us two stories about the design of paper currency around the world. First, the story of the making of the Euro banknotes, the design of which was supposed to unify Europe and not rely on any one country's national heroes or monuments. Then we learn about China's early pioneering experiments in paper currency, hundreds of years before it caught on in the rest of the world.  [Real Fake Bridges] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=37968&post_type=episode) ... Read more

14 Sep 2021

20 MINS

20:43

14 Sep 2021


#509

457- Model Organism

Axolotls are nature’s great regenerators. They are able to grow back not just their tails, but also legs, arms, even parts of vital organs, including their hearts. This remarkable ability is one of several traits that turned the axolotl into a scientific superstar. The axolotl is one of the most abundant laboratory animals in biology. They can be found swimming in tanks at universities all around the world. But in the wild they’ve only ever been found in one place: Mexico City. [Model Organism] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=37900&post_type=episode) ... Read more

07 Sep 2021

31 MINS

31:53

07 Sep 2021


#508

456- Full Spectrum

In 2015 the world was divided into two warring factions overnight. And at the center of this schism was a single photograph. Cecilia Bleasdale took a picture of a dress that she planned to wear to her daughter's wedding and that photo went beyond viral. Some saw it as blue with black trim; others as white with gold trim. For his part, Wired science writer Adam Rogers knew there was more to the story -- a reason different people looking at the same object could come to such radically divergent conclusions about something as simple as color. Rogers recently wrote a book titled [Full Spectrum: How the Science of Color Made Us Modern] (https://amzn.to/3yqQUAG) . In this episode, Roman Mars talks with the author about how the pursuit to organize, understand, and create colors has been one of the driving forces shaping human history, starting with the story of this hotly debated piece of apparel from 2015 then winding back through built environments of global World's Fairs. [Full Spectrum] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=37889&post_type=episode) ... Read more

31 Aug 2021

32 MINS

32:13

31 Aug 2021


#507

455- A Field Guide to Water

What does water mean to you? In this feature, author Bonnie Tsui (Why We Swim), actress Joy Bryant, submarine pilot Erika Bergman, figure skater Elladj Baldé, 85-year-old synchronized swimmer Barbara Eison-White, professional mermaid Olivia Gonzales, and others share stories about the many ways water influences our lives. From [Pop-Up Magazine] (https://www.popupmagazine.com/) , creators of this [ Field Guide series] (https://www.popupmagazine.com/fieldguide/) : "We recommend listening outside, near water if you can. Head to the ocean if you’re on the coast. Or walk to a nearby pond or creek. Sit by a fountain at a park. Or just pour yourself a glass of water." Plus, an excerpt of [Roman Mars On The Anatomy Of A Good Story (w/ Michelle Fournet, Roman Mars, Pedro Pascal)] (https://www.stitcher.com/show/periodic-talks-1995038/episode/roman-mars-on-the-anatomy-of-a-good-story-w-michelle-fournet-roman-mars-pedro-pascal-200230334) , part of the Periodic Talks podcast. It's a show about what gets people curious, from virtual experiences to celestial bodies, with Gillian Jacobs (Community, Netflix's LOVE) and Diona Reasonover (NCIS) [A Field Guide to Water] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=37869&post_type=episode) ... Read more

17 Aug 2021

34 MINS

34:57

17 Aug 2021


#506

454- War, Famine, Pestilence, and Design

When Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt were promoting  [The 99% Invisible City ] (http://99pi.org/book) in late 2020, one question came up over and over again in conversations and interviews about our built environment: in what ways will the COVID pandemic change cities long term? Realistically, it's hard to answer a question about the future while in the midst of a crisis, but we can look to and extrapolate from precedents, like: designs born out of past disasters. [War, Famine, Pestilence, and Design] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=37836&post_type=episode) ... Read more

10 Aug 2021

31 MINS

31:38

10 Aug 2021


#505

453- The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food

Officially titled The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food, it was often known simply as “Kniga” (translated: "book") because it was one of the only cookbooks to exist in the Soviet Union. The volume is peppered with glossy photographs of really lavish spreads and packed with text as well. There are recipes for lentils and crab salad and how to cook buckwheat nine different ways. But this book was meant to do so much more than show people how to make certain dishes — it's a Stalinist document aimed at addressing hunger itself in the USSR. "The book" was at the vanguard of a radical Soviet food experiment that, despite its numerous obstacles, transformed Russian cuisine. [The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=37787&post_type=episode) ... Read more

04 Aug 2021

42 MINS

42:27

04 Aug 2021


#504

452- The Lows of High Tech

Britt Young is a geographer and tech writer based in the Bay Area. She also has what's called a "congenital upper limb deficiency." In other words, she was born without the part of her arm just below her left elbow. She's used different sorts of prosthetic devices her whole life, and in 2018, she celebrated the arrival of a brand new, multi-articulating prosthetic hand. This prosthetic hand has a sleek carbon fiber casing, with specific pre-programmed grips that she can control just by flexing the muscles in her residual limb. She can use a precision pinch to pick a hairpin off of the table, or a Hulk-style power fist to squeeze objects. This kind of assistive technology has been life-changing for a lot of people who have limb differences. But for Britt, in particular, it hasn't been life-changing at all. In fact, her cutting-edge bionic arm has been a pretty major disappointment. "It's just not what you imagine. It's not like I'm like everyone else now, it's something different." [The Lows of High Tech] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?post_type=episode)   ... Read more

27 Jul 2021

40 MINS

40:20

27 Jul 2021


#503

451- Hanko

Hanko, sometimes called insho, are the carved stamp seals that people in Japan often use in place of signatures. Hanko seals are made from materials ranging from plastic to jade and are about the size of a tube of lipstick. The end of each hanko is etched with its owner’s name, usually in the kanji pictorial characters used in Japanese writing. This carved end is then dipped in red cinnabar paste and impressed on a document as a form of identification. Hanko seals work like signatures, only instead of signing on a dotted line, you impress your hanko in a small circle to prove your identity. But unlike a signature, which you can make with any old pen or touch screen, in Japan you need to have your own personal hanko with you whenever you stamp something, and you have to stamp it in person. ... Read more

20 Jul 2021

39 MINS

39:05

20 Jul 2021


#502

450- Stuff the British Stole

Throughout its reign, the British Empire stole a lot of stuff. Today those objects are housed in genteel institutions across the UK and the world. They usually come with polite plaques. The ABC podcast [Stuff the British Stole] (https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/stuff-the-british-stole/) is a six episode series about the not-so-polite history behind a few of those objects. We’re going to play the first episode and Roman talks to the presenter and creator Marc Fennell about the series. [Stuff the British Stole] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=37737&post_type=episode) ... Read more

14 Jul 2021

46 MINS

46:18

14 Jul 2021


#501

449- Mine!

Every year, fights break out on airplanes. They happen between the people who lean back in their seats, and the people who get their knees smooshed. Sometimes planes have to be grounded because of these arguments. If you think about it, these arguments are the result of confusion. Both people paid for a seat on the airplane, but it's unclear who owns the space behind it. Jim Salzman and Michael Heller are law professors and the authors of a new book called [Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives] (https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/601899/mine-by-michael-heller-and-james-salzman/) . They write about these common instances where ownership is not clear cut. According to Salzman and Heller, confusing ownership rules are often the result of poor ownership design. This is true not just for airplane seats, but also for battles over digital privacy, climate change, and wealth inequality. [Mine!] (https://99percentinvisible.org/?p=37675&post_type=episode)   ... Read more

29 Jun 2021

30 MINS

30:18

29 Jun 2021