Roman Mars is the host of the podcast 99% Invisible. His weekly show explores the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world. On May 4, 99% Invisible will be part of Radiotopia Live, a one-night only event at the Ace Hotel. The LA Forum spoke to Mars about telling design stories through the medium of radio.
What inspired you choose radio as a medium to talk about the world of design?
The reason I thought it was a good idea as a radio show was because I’m much more fascinated by the story of design and how design is used to solve problems than I am by the aesthetics of design. When pictures are available, the audience gets a little too hung up on how things look, and I like that I can strip that away and focus on how a designed object got to be the way it is. 99% Invisible is about using design as a lens to view our humanity and the audio constraint gives that even greater focus.
How do you select the stories you tell to listeners?
99% Invisible is now a team of really talented people who pitch story ideas back and forth all the time. I tend to favor the stories that are about a specific, even everyday, object, but reveal something larger about the world. The episodes that resonate with me are the ones that help decode the world in some way and give you new eyes for examining the built world and all the consideration that went into it.
In your TED talk you say that a well-designed flag can be seen as a great indicator of how a city considers design itself. Do you believe it’s time for Los Angeles to get a new city flag?
L.A. has a classically bad “seal on a bed sheet” flag and you could do so much better. Even if you just took the seal off and kept the tricolor zigzag, it would be better. I think a total redesign is worth exploring. L.A. is an amazing place, and it would be great to see a flag the residents really loved and rallied around. I sense more and more pride in being a resident of Los Angeles, so it’s a great time to get a great flag that people doing all manner of civic projects will embrace.