Lulu Miller is the co-host of NPR’s new show about human behavior, Invisibilia. Along with journalist goddesses Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin, she covers stories that challenge our assumptions about how the human organism works. As part of our interview series with speakers at the 2016 Hopscotch Design Festival, we asked her five questions about podcasting, the culture at NPR, and what topics she’s interested in lately. Read her answers below.
1. Your podcast Invisibilia was named one of “the 10 best new podcasts of 2015” by The Guardian. What has the success meant to you?
It’s a total honor to be included in lists like these. And it was a total surprise. When Alix and I set out to start making the show, we thought perhaps a few radio nerds and people interested in human behavior would be into it. To see the widespread enthusiasm for it—as the download numbers crept up to 50 million for season one—we realized, wow, these issues—overcoming fear, and dark thoughts, and struggling with how much to coddle your child—are things that people want to talk about and hear about. The main thing it’s done for me is shown me that the dark, private, scary stuff we often keep private is okay to talk about. Needed to talk about.
2. NPR has recently reinvented itself as a robust podcast platform. Can you speak to how the company has designed a system that breeds creativity and helps people create such compelling and unique content?
It is a really fricking cool moment to be at NPR. They are trying all sorts of new ways to harness the creativity and smarts that already exists inside the building. There are multiple reporters experimenting with new podcasts or mini-series, such as Embedded, the Code Switch podcast, the NPR Politics Podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour, Hidden Brain, as well as countless cool other ones that are in development. There is a Storytelling Lab that encourages anyone inside the building to submit ideas for experimental pieces and series and ideas to test out on the rage of platforms (on air, podcast, digital, video, photo, blog, NPR ONE app, even live events) that NPR has to offer.
There are pretty much weekly brownbag draft talks open to anyone inside the building that explore a range of ideas. Up on the fifth floor, where Invisibilia sits, there is just this energy in the air. It’s light and airy and it feels like there is this protected space to experiment. Then, downstairs in the news world, there are all kinds of social media producers and reporters and digital producers exploring with new techniques. It just feels like a sparkly moment of cross pollination and experimentation. To read more about some of the specifics of brilliant strategist minds at work, check this article from NiemanLab.
3. Is there an episode you wanted to make but couldn’t for one reason or another?
We almost did a piece on the history of Biodiversity as a measure of ecosystem health, which…I KNOW…sounds really boring. But isn’t! But, as interesting as the ins and outs of the tale are, we couldn’t quite find a way to make it fit into a more universal frame about human behavior.
4. Can you give us a sneak peek into some topics that you’re exploring right now?
I’m still very interested in the ways humans look at nature. What’s real. What’s perceived. And how our projections of what we think is valuable end up reshaping the earth.
5. What are you hoping people will come away with after attending your talk?
A sense that they might have a new little tool, like a shiv, for breaking out of their own prison of creative stuckness.
You can catch Lulu’s talk on Friday, September 9 at 1:20 p.m. at CAM Raleigh. Be sure to check out the entire Hopscotch Design Festival lineup and visit the schedule page so you can plan out your festival. And if you haven’t already, make sure to buy tickets before they sell out.