More and more I am realizing, what I hope is known to lot of people already, that a great deal of information and insight is being broadcast around the airwaves through podcasts. There are my personal favorites like This American life, How To Do Everything podcast, and Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, but, for sure, there are countless podcasts out there that are so good and wholesome that they go beyond anything thought possible with mere sound. There is Radio Lab that brings innovative story-telling, and then there is Mike Maron’s WTF Podcast which is funny and thoughtful in a very weird way, and a whole plethora of other podcasts about how stuff work in general, everything from soap bubbles to space ships. There is not a topic in this world for which there isn’t a podcast with a brilliant artist giving out excellant and meaningful information.
By the power of the internets, I discovered a great podcast, from public radio yet again, called 99% Invisible. I realize that I did not really discover that podcast. I mean, that is not a discovery, now is it? A discovery would be would be what Copernicus did with his Heliocentric theory for planetary motion or what Newton did with gravity. What I did when I found the podcast was– oh, that’s the word, found. I found the podcast. Yeah, it was lying around in the internet and, like many others, I found it.
Still here ? You are a patient one, my friend. The 99%invisible is a podcast about design. It is a podcast about design of everything, large and small. Roman Mars, apart from having a sci-fi novel character name, produces and narrates the short four to five minute podcasts in which he interviews experts and designers about how things get made in to the form that they get made into. Like, why a tooth brush holder has much wider holes (to accomodate ergonomically fat handled brushes) than it used to or why does the living area in the International Space Station has a kitchen table (because the astronauts insisted that they liked it).
Following my previous post which listed Donald A. Norman’s quotes on design, this seemed like a natural progression into more design. This 99%Invisible podcast is a great resource for really seeing some of the everyday things, like building shapes and free parking and how they can be improved to better suit our ever evolving needs. Mr.Mars, again a great name for a futuristic sci-fi villain, never misses to point out the human element in the design of the things he is talking about. The table in space shuttle story emphases how important human centered design is.
If you think about it, a tables and chairs have no reason to be in space since, at zero gravity, everyone floats around in the space shuttle. In fact, sitting is not really sitting, since the astronauts have to strap themselves to the chairs which are themselves attached to the floor. They serve no real utility until you consider the human aspect. People, even in outer space, like to gather around at the end of the day and talk about their work and their emotions, joke around and gossip as a way to relax. This is a very human behavior that does not really serve much scientific utility, especially as expensive and critical as space exploration. But psychologically, the table and the resulting sense of friendliness and camaraderie among the astronauts help them keep them relaxed and, in some sense, sane, which, everyone would agree, is critical to the mission. This is a great example of how human centric design can make or break a product, even if it is a space ship that is floating around the earth’s orbit.
The podcast is filled with stories like these, one per episode, which demonstrate how there is always design or lack of it in every thing we see. They have fifty-five episodes so far, but the episodes are just a few minutes long so you should be able to cover them quickly. Give it a try.
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