I am by no means the first designer to udder gasps of disgust at the look of the leaked NSA material for their program "PRISM." I also realize by the time I am finally getting around to posting my thoughts... it's not exactly the hottest news topic. "News" is a term that seems to only hold our attention for as long as the item shows up in our preferred feeds... an hour? a day? ... a discussion better had over beers on a patio somewhere.
Regardless, here is a quick reminder - some screen shots of the leaked material.
The visuals are the obvious part right? They suck. Everything about how they are trying to communicate this message sucks. The colors, the use of a million typefaces, the crimes against any sort of "white space" containing the information from being sprayed like vomit all over the place. It's all terrible and barely comprehensible.
But what if this was genuis?
A very tiny part of my brain thinks this is genius. How do we make one of the scariest government programs seem in reality pretty harmless? We un-design it. We use the ugliest, hardest to read visual presentation methods, using a program ubiquitously know throughout the business world as lame. We make the financial wizard intern design the LOGO. And the cherry on top - lets not waste anytime trying to secure it - let's make sure its insecure - assuming some day it will get leaked and we will want it too look as unthreatening as possible.
It's not genius.
The reality is that no one is that sneaky outside of movie plots or my weird brain.
Instead we're dealing with your typical design accident - didn't think this would happen kind of situation. It's sad that even under the watchful eye of the first president to seemingly care about design (sweet logo, sweet swag, sweet graphics for all his POTUS messaging, responsive web, social media ... etc) that we would end up seeing something this poorly executed but that is why I have written the following letter to Barry.
Dear Barry O and the NSA,
that I know you are reading this, I wanted to take a few moments to give you
some thoughts and pointers on PRISM from a designer’s lens or... dare I
I've designed quite a few things in my career. From logos, corporate ID systems, advertising, direct mailers, websites and more, I’ve seen pretty much anything you could throw at a designer. I've also unfortunately had the pleasure of formatting and cleaning up way more than my fair share of power point decks from execs and coworkers over the years.
If you want to be taken seriously as the intelligent (slightly scary because of its power) top secret program that you are you need to take your communication seriously.
Barry – I get it.
You're the leader of the free world!
It's not your job to worry about your top-secret program's logo or power point template for god's sake. You probably didn't even notice it had a logo, let alone to notice how horrifying it is.
And if this had happened on any other president's watch I might not have given it a second thought. But you're BARRY OBAMA. You had a team of great communicators, designers, writers and the like that made your campaign for the presidency beautifully inspiring and - I believe -helped you win twice. From adoption of the latest technologies to a beautiful logo that inspired artists around the country to take action, you are the FIRST POTUS to embrace the importance of how great design matters to the message.
So I ask, how is it possible that something so secret and so important to our country’s safety be allowed to commit so many terror attacks on good communication?
With pleasure, I offer up my contribution to this country’s safety from design crimes with a few ideas and pointers to help with the next PRISM-like program.
* * * * * *
1. Firs of all, not every "program" needs a logo:
I've worked with government related clients before and I get it. We love logos. Logos for departments, logos for events, logos for committees and logos for programs. The government has a love affair with logos. One idea might be to just kill the logo craze. Implement some rules that govern (pun intended) logo creation and usage. This is no small task of course. If you can’t reduce the number of logos...
2. Don't be so literal
It's true that a prism is a device that reflects light. And from what I've read the program is named PRISM quite literally because of the refracting and splitting of light from fiber optic cables that carry information (on the internet). Just because your name has a literal meaning, does not mean the logo needs to also be literal.
3. Don’t mimic Pink Floyd.
I think this goes without further explanation.
4. Your sweet spot is somewhere between James & John.
Personality wise I think what you should be shooting for is 80% James Bond and a 20% generous splash of John Rambo.*
I'm not pretending to be the best most creative designer out there. But merely trying to illustrate the point that you can reference a prism without being so literal. You can shape how people see you and remember you with a define personality up front.
THE POWERPOINT DECK
You never know when you’re going to be caught with your pants down. That’s why you ALWAYS wear nice, clean underwear. This powerpoint deck is your sad gray undies. Nobody wants to see them and no one is going to take you seriously once they have.
Learn your lesson and grow. All important communication - like underwear – no matter how top secret should operate under the assumption that it could get exposed at any moment. If you want to be taken seriously, where your seriously nice undies.
Instead of a deck how about something more secure?
Rather than post some design ideas for cleaning up the deck... why does it even need to be a powerpoint deck? If apps like Snapchat can figure out how to send people self destructing images why can't Prism? (Although I just recently read that Snapchat might be breakable....)
Another idea is Blink Link. A service that lets you control how many times a link you post to twitter can be viewed before it disappears. Read more about it here on the Next Web.
Yet another app related to this idea of controlling how and who can see a message you want to share is Secret.li. Which allows you to upload encrypted photos to facebook and control who can see it from your friend list and how long they can see it.