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Blog

15 Podcasts Playing in IDEO Ears Right Now

Sep 12 2018

Now that we consume most of our information through screens, audio programming is a breath of fresh air. Podcasts enable us to get up and out, liberating us from the tether of phones and computers. For listeners, the panoply of podcasts seems to grow daily; and for creators, there’s an exponentially growing audience, which means even the most obscure subject matter is bound to find eager ears.

In 2016, we posted 15 inspiring podcast recommendations from IDEO designers, and exactly two years later, we’ve built a whole new list. This time, we put the call out to all of IDEO, inviting recommendations for all types of programming—whatever our teammates are currently listening to and loving. Hopefully many on this list will be new to you, and will help freshen and diversify your own audio queues.

Podcasts 1 3

1. Ear Hustle

Ear Hustle takes an honest look into the lives of people within the confines of the American prison system, and it invokes both laughs and tears. Nigel Poor, a Bay Area-based artist, teams up with Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, both current prisoners at San Quentin, which is California’s oldest prison and houses the greatest number of death row inmates in the nation. The three hosts produce stories at the facility’s media lab, where they explore topics as light as how “cellies”—or roommates—are assigned, and as dark as the gut-wrenching effects of the three strikes law. Regardless of the topic, each episode is eye-opening and humanizing, allowing listeners to understand the realities of living behind bars. —Sue-Jean Sung

2. How I Built This

How I Built This takes listeners on a “behind the scenes” tour of how driven entrepreneurs turned innovative ideas into world-changing companies. The stories are full of passion, challenges, successes, and failure...how couldn't you get hooked on this podcast!? Most compelling is the overwhelming humanity that comes through in each founder’s story. Without question a feel-good podcast that will get your creative juices flowing! —Andrew Evans

3. Switched on Pop

I love Switched on Pop because I love music, and pop music tends to get a bad rap or get brushed off as sugary, over-simplified sound, which is just not the case. This podcast is run by a musicologist and a pop songwriter. They deconstruct songs sonically and lyrically to help give some insight into what the song is doing, and how it achieves its goals. The musicology perspective is fascinating to me and helps me deconstruct other songs that I hear. —Meg Rice

Podcasts 4 6

4. How to Be Amazing

How to Be Amazing is an in-depth interview show hosted by comedian, author and actor Michael Ian Black. I love this podcast because Michael Ian Black as a host is simultaneously witty, vulnerable and empathetic. Thus, the conversations move fluidly between banter and deep revelations. The guests are creative types: artists, authors, chefs, musicians. Black's focus is on how each guest manages to find creativity and persevere in his or her field. Every episode ends with an “Amazing 5” recommendation segment, in which the guests recommend a book, music, food, TV, and miscellaneous item. My favorite episodes: David Sedaris, Elizabeth Gilbert, Maira Kalman, and Judd Apatow. —Mollie West Duffy

5. Love + Radio

I love Love + Radio! It has amazing non-fiction, long-form stories. Each one is unique and totally unexpected. Every time I listen to this podcast, I find myself transported to another world. It's truly magical. One episode in particular that stands out is a series of interviews with a man who is dating a life-sized doll, but [spoiler alert!] you don't realize his girlfriend is a doll until the very end. It’s incredible! You really learn how to feel empathy for people whose lives are worlds away from your own. There's also a three-part series about a woman in Colombia who realizes that the family she's just married into are drug lords. The series follows her story as she moves to the US and later is forced into hiding in the Witness Security Program, after providing information to the US government. Another story I loved was from a woman who had an out-of-body experience while undergoing surgery. —Ali Cottong

6. Containers

I got really into the Containers podcast. I never thought I would geek out so hard on this seemingly mundane part of the global supply chain. As a designer at IDEO, I work with a lot companies on their journeys to become “future fit.” One way companies are becoming future fit is by making the bold shift from a increasingly strained linear economy (take, make, waste) to a more prosperous, circular one (one that is regenerative and keeps materials and resources in flow at their highest use for as long as possible, creating new value along the way).

One huge part of redesigning a future economy is understanding how our economy today is designed. This podcast tells the story of containers, something so seemingly banal and ubiquitous. It colorfully illuminates how they came to be and the role they’ve had in transforming not only our economy but so many facets of our modern society in such a short amount of time.

As we design and prototype new tools, platforms, products, services and ventures in the circular economy, Containers inspired me to see the transformative power that a single, simple, and elegant innovation can have when it allows people to do something they couldn’t do before, at a tremendous scale. —Rhys Thom

Podcasts 7 9

7. Death of 1000 Cuts

I’m listening to Season 1 of Death of 1000 Cuts. It’s actually an 8-week writing course given by a poet, Tim Clare. The 15-minute podcast gives advice and a structured 10-minute writing exercise every day for 8 weeks. It helps with stagnant writer’s block, writing confidence, writing fatigue and helps exercise the writing muscles for people to feel empowered to write and to dedicate the time to creativity. I love it because while I’m an (IDEO) lawyer by day, it means I get to do the creative flex thing by night. —Rebecca Wint

8. My Favorite Murder

My Favorite Murder is a true crime comedy podcast—not a combination you'd expect, but the hosts, Karen and Georgia, make it go down like chocolate and peanut butter. It’s not at all about glorifying the crimes, but rather, looking into the darkest parts of the human experience and finding a way to laugh. MFM (as fans call it) has also inspired a feminist movement with a massive fan base. There's even an IDEO Slack channel devoted to the podcast. —Jennifer Maer

9. NPR's Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain features amazing storytelling on why we do and think the ways that we do (backed with experts in the field!). Why are people in multi-cultural relationships more creative? Why did a competitive luxury brand gift Snookie a rival Gucci handbag? Why does wearing bright red sneakers make other people feel you're more influential? Why should marriages be more like Pinot than Cabernet? All these questions answered (and more) through the Hidden Brain. —Mike Peng

Podcasts 10 12

10. Mothers of Invention

Mothers of Invention is about climate change, how it's a feminist problem, and has a feminist solution. It's hosted by Maeve Higgins, an awesome comedian and storyteller; and Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland (!). It's the first thing I've listened to on climate change that has made me feel something like hope. —Ashley Holtgraver

11. Cocaine and Rhinestones

Cocaine & Rhinestones is an in-depth look at some of the wildest stories of 20th century country music. I suppose I love it because I love old country music and was raised in an environment where Hank Williams was God. But these stories go much deeper than fading memories of hearing steel guitar over a busted truck radio. It's so well researched I might compare it to a Ken Burns documentary. Yes, it's dark, and that's why you'll love it. Murder...check. Alcoholism and adultery...check. People behaving in intolerable ways...check. But all of the negativity and carnage are balanced by unflinching tributes to a truly unique American musical creation. It's incredibly respectful of those who wrote and performed the music. Irony is uncool now anyway. This feels real. —Zach Hobbs

12. The Longest Shortest Time

The Longest Shortest Time is a parenting show. I like to think about someday becoming a parent, but even as someone without children, the way they talk developmental theory makes the whole concept of parenting feel more diverse and accessible. I don't have kids yet, so I listen in to see what my future could look like, and to learn more about youth today. —Stuart Getty

Podcasts 13 15

13. Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness

I love Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness because, well, Queer Eye is my new obsession, and he just absolutely delights me. He's so smart and yet somewhat hides it to remain more "curious," and he really explores every topic under the sun, from Saudi Arabia to abstinence in addiction therapy. —Madeline Armstrong

14. Change Agent from The New York Times

I've been surprised by how much the stories told on Change Agent stick with me, and how powerful analogous inspiration can be in helping us change our behavior. —Em Havens

15. Racist Sandwich

Racist Sandwich is a podcast about food, race, gender, and class. It's a refreshing, honest, and deeply human look at what happens at that intersection. I really like the podcast because they tell different stories from points of view that are rarely highlighted by traditional media channels. I am a latecomer to the show, but I found their episodes "Tasting Something other than Shame" and "Detroiters are Fighters" to be particularly inspiring. —Sandeep Pahuja

  • Sarah Rich

    Editor, IDEO Blog
    Sarah Rich is an editor and writer based in Oakland. She thinks of design as a filter through which almost everything can be viewed anew.