Before I first listened to 99% Invisible, I had heard it be described as “an audio podcast about visual design.” I feel like I appreciate good design—in particular, I’m partial to beautiful picturebooks and slow drives through gorgeous neighborhoods I could never afford to live in. But do I know a single thing about how design works? No. Am I interested in learning how design works? Sure, but only after I finish reading the ten books stacked up next to my bed, find the time to clean out my pantry, and finally watch This is Us.
Lucky for me and my fellow time-and attention-challenged, design-ignorant podcast fans, 99% Invisible isn’t one bit technical, wonky, or boring. In a deep, soothing voice, host Roman Mars shares stories about a wide range of design-adjacent topics like, the history of New York City’s scantily-clad public sculptures, the powerful art of well-designed corporate logos, and the world’s love/hate relationship with Brutalist Architecture (I’m looking at you, City Hall!).
Art, architecture, and city planning are perennial 99% Invisible topics, but my favorite episodes are the ones that take you somewhere unexpected. Believe me: the episode on the exciting world of temperature-controlled shipping units is surprisingly fascinating! Episodes like this drive home the podcast’s central theme: that design is everywhere, invisibly impacting history, culture, and our everyday lives.
If you like listening to 99% Invisible, you probably like fun, fascinating nonfiction that teaches you something you never thought you’d want to learn about. Try one of these design-centric options:
In this work of narrative nonfiction, Larson weaves together two related historical tales: the captivating story of how pharmacist H. H. Holmes hatched a plan to murder innocent attendees of the 1893 World's Fair, and the somehow equally captivating story of how some of era's most renowned architects and designers turned Chicago into the dazzling White City for the record-breaking world event.
Don't let the title put you off: this perennial classic is not just about comic books. McCloud's respected, graphic-style masterwork is an accessible - and entertaining - introduction to visual storytelling of all kinds.
Olmsted might be a familiar name to park-going Bostonians, but many Americans aren't aware of his incredible impact on American concepts of landscape, green space, and city planning. This biography tells all about Olmsted's life and work.
Nature might seem random, but forest expert Wohlleben beg to differ. Learn about tree families, inter-plant communication, and more in his charming botanical exposé.
Esteemed essayist Gopnik honors his beloved hometown of New York City in this collection. From history to the present, these essays tell the story of a city by telling the stories of its everyday, middle class inhabitants and how their city impacts their everyday, middle class lives.