There’s a lot of talk about the recently declassified White House brief that mentions a possible attack by Al Queda forces within the United States but nothing about the state of intelligence reports given to the President of the United States.
I speak specifically to the design of the document. It’s clearly inefficient in its purpose to communicate the assessment of threats against the United States. While a better designed document might not save the world, I believe it would help the President (Bush or otherwise) to quickly and more effectively assess the information given to him.
In a world with Jakob Neilson, how is it possible that nobody in the West Wing has learned the word usability?
The original document looks like it was prepared in Microsoft Word. No real problem there but with so many formatting options available today I’m surprised that nothing has been done to highlight information except for indentation.
Nothing in the text is emphasized, making it difficult to scan. It would be much better if keywords, names, and places were in bold and/or in a different color. Make it so that within seconds the President can see how serious of a threat it is.
Not satisfied with this problem I set out to create a better intelligence brief.
So, let me go around the document and highlight the changes. First is the headline, nice and big — quick to read. It is accompanied by the designation ‘FOR PRESIDENT ONLY‘ which was perviously placed at the very bottom of the original. I assume this would help any active Presidential aide to determine if they can read it in the open, or have to duck into a hallway for a quick look.
I’ve also added an inventory number to the document that, I think, would make it easier to catalog this type of material. Maybe it’s not cataloged for a reason (SEE — President Nixon) but I still think it’s a good idea. And it looks kinda cool. Future versions should place this number with a bar code.
Next is a simple matrix created to let the reader quickly scan the seriousness of the threat, where the target is, who’s behind it, and what United States agencies are in play to deter the aggressors. I thought about taking this a step further by adding visual aid to some of these categories or in some cases, replacing words altogether with images, but on reflection it seemed too much. The red box indicates the threat level on a scale of 1-10 with corresponding colors similar to those used for Homeland security.
The body copy is different in only that words are highlighted to make it easier to read. Nothing revolutionary about this idea, if you’re a web designer. But it’s high time the government got with it.
Last is the accountability line, giving ownership not only to the cabinet member who gave the brief but also a list of authors and contributors. This information is particularly useful when independent councils are formed to investigate such matters or when Congress wants to figure things out on it’s own. If business officers are now legally accountable for every document in their company, why not make our leaders accountable as well?
I seriously doubt the White House cares about such things (Condi if you are, lets talk) but it would seem to me that if USA Today made it easier for a nation to monitor the weather through good design, why not give design a crack at making it easier to stop terrorism?
Update: As per request, I have recreated the redesigned document in Microsoft Word. Now you can make your own PDB‘s — knock yourself out.
Now you can have your kids brief you every morning on current situation of their homework. Kiss up to the boss by reporting on the state of politics within the office. Or, if your name is George Tenet, now you can make a much better presentation to your boss each and every morning.