As host of the weekly radio show and podcast 99% Invisible, Roman Mars takes a democratic interest in the stories behind all kinds of design. With typically “tiny” 4- to 10-minute segments (a project of KALW in San Francisco), Mars has explored the past and future of the Purple Hotel outside of Chicago, designed by John Macsai, the sound of the World Trade Center towers “breathing,” and depression induced by airport design, among many other topics. With richly layered music and sound effects and clever editing, Mars’s style is entirely his own but owes something to This American Life and Radiolab, two wildly popular radio shows that use storytelling to find meaning in the mundane and idiosyncratic. This summer, Mars launched a $42,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund the third season of 99% Invisible. He blew past his goal in less than 24 hours and went on to raise over $170,000. The third season started on September 19.
Your background is in science, specifically plant genetics. I can see a link between that kind of study and the way your show dissects the DNA of the designed world. How do you connect these interests?