Big Brother's appalling design skills

Rob Walker, Yahoo News
Rob Walker
Yahoo! News

If the Guardian’s story about the National Security Agency’s secret “PRISM” program to collect data from various tech giants is true, then one thing is clear: Big Brother has appalling design skills.

Look at the slides from the PowerPoint deck sketching out the alleged program — heinous! Isn’t there anyone in our all-seeing surveillance infrastructure with a mild grasp of data visualization? Couldn't the NSA have hired someone out of RISD or SCAD? Memo to the shadowy overlords of high-tech spookery: Things have changed since 1995, and if you must use PowerPoint, please observe a few basic rules about keeping your slides clean, simple and legible. (And by the way, your deck uses an outdated version of the Yahoo! logo. Pay attention.)

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Then there’s the PRISM logo. It’s unclear why a secret program would need a visual identity — or why it’s rendered in all caps, since it’s apparently not an acronym — but The Guardian has followed up on that subject by alleging an ancillary scandal: PRISM’s logo is basically a Dark Side of the Moon ripoff!

Anyway, I’d say that The Guardian’s comparison of the logo to an organization out of a James Bond film -- "The freaky Dark Side of the Moon-style design looks like something a Bond villain would use," Tim Dowling wrote --  is pretty generous. The barely legible prism and perfunctory sans serif type are jammed into an inexplicable ten-sided shape, with a garish black-on-red color scheme. It looks like something the stoner who sat behind you in your tenth-grade social studies class doodled onto his notebook, as the potential emblem of the thrash-metal band that he will never form.

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Obviously there is much about the PRISM story that’s still in contention (Yahoo! and other companies named have denied involvement, for instance), but here’s something I’m confident about. If the slide suggesting that PRISM’s budget is $20 million a year is correct, I am certain that not one dime of that went to a designer. Milton Glaser would be a great hire for PRISM -- anyone have access to his email address?