99% Invisible

by Roman Mars

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.

  

Latest Episodes

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

 


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Posted on 27 July 2021 | 10:31 pm


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.


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Posted on 20 July 2021 | 8:06 pm


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 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


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Posted on 14 July 2021 | 12:38 am


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. 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!

 


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Posted on 29 June 2021 | 10:22 pm


448- Katie Mingle's Right to Roam

We revisit Katie Mingle's Right to Roam episode as we say goodbye

In the United Kingdom, the freedom to walk through private land is known as “the right to roam.” The movement to win this right was started in the 1930s by a rebellious group of young people who called themselves “ramblers” and spent their days working in the factories of Manchester, England.

Right to Roam


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Posted on 23 June 2021 | 12:36 am


447- Flag Days: The Red, the Black & the Green

After Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd last year, tens of thousands of people all over the world took to the streets to protest police violence against Black people. And if you look at images from these marches, you will probably start to notice a common color scheme -- one involving a lot of red, black, and green. The flag was invented to unite Black people all over the world living under racial repression. When it first came into existence, the flag posed some bold questions about where Black people owed their loyalty: was it to the nations where their lives were demeaned and threatened? Or to a new nation - one they would build entirely for themselves? For hundreds of thousands of Black people, the red-black-and-green symbolized the answer.

 Flag Days: The Red, the Black & the Green


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Posted on 15 June 2021 | 8:23 pm


446- Flag Days: Good Luck, True South

Correction: Our staff producer pronounced the the Japanese word "ōbōn" incorrectly in this episode. It is pronounced OH-bohn not oh-BAHN.

Let us be the first to wish you a Happy Flag Day, beautiful nerds!  Anyone who has listened to 99% Invisible regularly knows we have a thing for flags, which can beautiful things that give communities something symbolic to rally around. This year, we decided to get the celebration started early then keep the party going with two whole weeks of flag-related stories. They look like normal Japanese flags (hinomaru) at a glance, but upon inspection, they are covered in handwritten notes often radiating outward in kanji from the central red circle (a sun against a field of white). Different messages are written in different hands directly on the fabric. These so-called "good luck flags" were gifted to soldiers, particularly during WWII, as part of a send-off from loved ones -- and their name in English comes from one of the most commonly written phrases on them: good luck. Antarctica is a wonderfully strange place, and not just because of its infamously frigid climate. This huge landmass doesn’t have an independent government or even a permanent human population. It also has a lot of flags, though strangely: no single official one. Flag Days: Good Luck, True South


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Posted on 8 June 2021 | 11:01 pm


445- The Clinch

After Producer Katie Mingle's mom wrote a romance novel, Katie set out to understand the romance genre and its classic covers. There was a lot to unpack. 

The Clinch


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Posted on 2 June 2021 | 12:29 am


444- Pipe Dreams

Most people probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about their toilets, but they are both a modern marvel while also being somewhat of a failure of systems design. On the one hand, it has created a vast sanitation system that has helped add decades to human lifespan by reducing disease. But on the other hand, less than half of the world’s population can access a toilet that safely manages bodily waste, including many right here in the United States. We use about 100 trillion gallons of water for toilets every year at a time when water is becoming more scarce. While we see radical technological change in almost every other aspect of our lives, we remain stuck in a sanitation status quo—in part because the topic of toilets is taboo.

Pipe Dreams


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Posted on 25 May 2021 | 8:13 pm