Bin Ladin Determined to Strike In US - The Memo From A Design Perspective
April 12, 2004 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Bin Ladin Determined to Strike In US - The Memo From A Design Perspective A desginer looks at the original memo and re-designs it for usability.
posted by turbanhead (17 comments total)
Let's say they used the new template. Wouldn't the 9/11 proceedings be something like this?

"Dr. Rice, why on earth did you assign a threat level of '2' to this memo, it's clearly an 8 or 9"
posted by mathowie at 11:07 AM on April 12, 2004

A link to the memo redesigner's explanation may be of interest.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:23 AM on April 12, 2004

He used prettier text and a 1-10 "threat level". As The Howie alludes to, who sets the threat level? What criteria?

Also how many of these memos are given a day? What do the other memos look like? What's the tone of the other memos? There are too many variables to consider before desinging a better template.

Perhaps the real problem are the number of false positives that create a level of apathy towards such memos. No design can improve upon that.

On Preview: After reading the explanation, good ideas -- the accountability and document indexing suggestions have nothing to do with design but rather government policy that will probably never change. The US should still update its document templates from 1960s typewriter chic.
posted by geoff. at 11:35 AM on April 12, 2004

It's a one-page memo, not a website or newspaper. While I agree about the "for the president's eyes only" part, the rest of it strikes me as silly. The POTUS should be able to read one page without highlighting or lift quotes. One glance at the title gives you a decent summary anyway.
posted by callmejay at 11:36 AM on April 12, 2004

good job on the redesign too.
posted by dabitch at 11:45 AM on April 12, 2004

I would very much like to bludgeon said designer over the head with the contents of CIA's unabridged Bin Ladin file.

It smells of a cry of self-ascribed professional importance, to start with. Sure, the memo could have looked prettier. You know what? 20 bucks says it wouldn't have made the least bit of difference. No, you cannot make the world a better place with a rounded, sans-serif font and a new color scheme alone.

But I digress. I originally simply wanted to note that:
a) The proposed design is boring and unoriginal. For some reason it makes me think of a GAP catalog.
b) When attempting to show how an original memo can be improved by a better layout, one can be much more effective by re-inserting the original text into said design, instead of filling in three paragraphs of ye-olde lorem impsums.
c) Doesn't anyone read Edwart Tufte anymore?
posted by blindcarboncopy at 11:53 AM on April 12, 2004

  • Needs
  • more
  • bullet points.
posted by RylandDotNet at 12:03 PM on April 12, 2004

You're the man now, dog.

Apparently it is only ok for some people to make jokes. Read the second comment on Airbag before you delete it this time
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:08 PM on April 12, 2004

who sets the threat level?

that would be the job of the terror alert banana, of course.
posted by quonsar at 12:27 PM on April 12, 2004

great post. i forget about visiting airbag sometimes... thanks for the reminder.
posted by specialk420 at 12:52 PM on April 12, 2004

Now it looks like a Salon article.
posted by tirade at 1:04 PM on April 12, 2004

The POTUS comes from a corporate background. Having written many memos for directors, like fish out of water, from the corporate world, highlighting and junk is necessary. For some reason the harvard business school teaches its graduates not to read things in full. Only to scan and pick out the "important information."
posted by jmgorman at 1:19 PM on April 12, 2004

Why do designers always just say, oh, the text is the text. Why not replace it with nonsense word-like nonsense based on a crappy translation joke. That is the worst idea.

The content is the king, espeically of a memo. Sure, some nice big box that says "This memo is important" is nice. And I like the work at the top--it clears up which group or groups, which targets, and a clear statement of the threat. But we have to assume that the content is what really matters. The case. And I assume that (despite my left-leanings) Bush read the one page memo.

So what's wrong is not the position of the text on the page, nor the font; it's the fucking words themselves. This redeisgn would be much better with the real text of the memo, edited for clarity and impact. Text that actually built the case -- with the caveats, and all. But that would take an editor, not a designer. Thanks Mr. Designer, for biting off the easy problems of making the page nice and white and "airy feeling" and dodging the true (and hard) problem.

Down with Lorem Ipsum!
posted by zpousman at 2:07 PM on April 12, 2004

Why is it that some people can't accept that the form in which a message is presented alters the way that it is received? Most people seem to realise that there is a difference between a video shot of a man sitting behind a desk and reading a statement and the same words linked to some emotive images (say 9/11 footage). The same thing applies to printed materials - as jmgorman points out, if you don't signpost documents, MBA morons will often miss the point of a document.

Of course, by presenting things in a bland and possibly ambiguous way, it provides those who read the memo with plausible deniability when it turns out that they should have done something in response to the message. But running security so that the key people have covered their arses doesn't seem the right way of going about things.
posted by daveg at 3:18 PM on April 12, 2004

The function of the memo was to impart a few tiny relevant facts. To an analyst this means keep it short, to a designer this means highlight the facts. This design is far superior to the original because it makes the most relevant information the most visible. How important is this memo? Who is involved? Where is it happening? It just needs boxes for when and what.

Producing a document that looks exactly like any million other innocuous documents de-emphasizes its worth. It's a problem that plagues form design in general. Some forms do an incredibly poor job of stating which information will kill the process the form is meant to continue and which information is optional. The original PDB design is bland by design and the most important information was at the end, like a newspaper article. This design is the exact opposite, which means a total improvement.
posted by raaka at 4:59 PM on April 12, 2004

I've learned from Metafilter that "blah a blah smock smock a blah blah smock smock block a smah block smock" makes great dummy text (example).
posted by weston at 8:09 PM on April 12, 2004

I'm disappointed in the remake. I thought it was going to be more like this.

Which actually might not be a bad idea, if some clever person was willing to give it a go!
posted by yhbc at 8:16 PM on April 12, 2004

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