Airbag Industries

Paperboy.

Now that I’ve been through a news cycle I’d like to collect a few thoughts and respond to critics and supporters.

You’ve got mail.

I can’t tell you how cool it is to get an email like this:

Greg:

I’m a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. I’d really like to chat with you a bit about the Better Tighty Whitey post – possibly for a story this week. When might be a good time to give you a call or exchange some e-mail? I’ll include my contact info below.

Thanks so much,

Jessica Mintz

Just the fact that someone at the Wall Street Journal wrote “tighty whitey” was good enough for me.

How to make friends and influence the Wall Street Journal.

A lot of you have asked, “how did they find your website.” I asked Jessica this same question because I thought it was a little weird. She responded, “A coworker passed it through the grapevine here.” Go figure.

In my initial interview I was asked what is information design and who, besides me, could talk about it. I gave a list of names including the three wise men who responded: Tufte, Wurman, and Nielsen. I can only assume the story took longer to publish because one, or each, of them took their sweet time responding.

Still I’m grateful for this opportunity. Despite the criticism I don’t think I could have gone to each of those men and asked them to critique some work I had done without being laughed at or having the hounds released on me.

Behold the power of the Wall Street Journal!

Spelling mistakes were made. Get over it.

I could care less how to properly spell Al Queda. In the last three years I think I’ve seen five different spellings for that name. There are spelling errors and a few grammar land mines on this site. Do your best to cope. And if you can’t do that go find hope eternal and read a dictionary.

Titles don’t have to be boring.

“A Better Tighty Whitey” is Airbag for “A Better Brief”. That wasn’t apparent to more than a few readers. And that’s ok, I think the title was clever, if not funny. There was a good post on the subject over at Asterisk.

What Would George Do.

Some readers assumed this was a joke, or another mockery of President Bush. I can assure you it is not. It’s still incredible to me the sad state of information being passed around the White House, no matter who’s in charge. It’s shameful.

Nobody I know of would ever, in their right mind, try to submit a memo like that at work or school. Shameful!

Memos don’t save lives.

More than a few people commented on the effect a redesigned memo would have on the outcome of 911, war in Iraq, etc. And many scoffed at the idea that redesigning the PDB would have changed the outcome of history, but I never said it would:

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.

Others countered that the President doesn’t even read these memos. Well I don’t care if you’re the President, Secretary of Defense, or Sam Seaborne. Poor communication is poor communication. The only difference is the people receiving these briefs can do things like go to war, launch nuclear missiles, or both.

Who’s going to set the threat level? The analyst?

As I commented before, I cannot believe how many United States Military Decision Making experts there are. And I think all of them said the same thing, this redesign won’t work because analysts don’t set priority levels.

As was Janice Fraser’s criticism of the redesign:

Mr. Storey’s redesign “shifts responsibility — and, moreover, accountability — for interpretation to the analyst or advisor who prepares the brief.”

I don’t know what Janice is trying to say here. It was analysts who wrote the original memo and it was analysts who chose what information to include in the document in order to set the tone and seriousness of the threat proposed.

It is the job of the analysts to examine the data, assess the situation, and make recommendations. So I’m not sure what point Janice was trying to make other than she knows a lot about, uh, web design.

Design matters — not.

I love design. I have a ever-expanding library of books on the subject that I flip through all the time. Design is where my heart is.

But I’m sorry, design doesn’t matter — design sells.

Anything well designed is going to sell better than that which lacks design. In this case, a better designed document would be better received than the 5th grade book report that was turned in.

This is a small point but one I thought important to make. Design for design’s sake doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

Tufte rawks — not.

I can’t say that Edward’s response surprised me. He’s as arrogant as they come. The problem is Tufte is great at designing around quantitative information but I don’t see that he shines in redesigning qualitative information. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Edward. I have all of his books (all signed) and a few posters but I don’t believe this is his area of expertise.

Now if we wanted an easy to read chart on the annual crop output of wheat fields in North Dakota over the last one hundred years, Edward’s the man.

Maps and fonts are good.

I adore the work of Richard Saul Wurman. Before Tufte hit the radar, there was Wurman and I think he’s still the top dog when it comes to information design. Nobody does it better.

In his response to the redesign, Richard suggested focusing the content around one of five things: “location, alphabet, time, category, or hierarchy.” Initially I was going to feature a map of the world in the Threat Matrix but thought it would too much. Turns out that’s just what Wurman would have done. Cool.

As for Jakob, I was honestly surprised that he agreed with the redesign. I thought for sure he would complain that I hadn’t designed to the edges of the paper. But it’s good to at least receive the little feedback that he provided.

See you next year!

While I don’t know the extent of my newly found powers I will try to keep my appearance in the Journal an annual event. It started with Introvertster last August ’03, and now this article in May ’04.

For 2005 I may have to streak through the New York Stock exchange to make the headlines but I think it will be worth it.

Must read addendum.

Khoi Vinh of Subtraction provides his own analysis on the effect of redesigning the PDB. His focus isn’t so much on the design as it is the copywriting. Nice work.