Monday, June 30, 2014

Stupid icons based on NSA programs with stupid names

The latest interactive graphic by ProPublica is a matrix that maps all NSA programs. The chart was designed by Jeff Larson and Julia Angwin, author of Dragnet Nation (I got a signed copy; thanks, Julia!) The first version of the project was a bunch of gridlines, dots, and little labels. It was good, but it also looked a bit flat. Assistant managing editor Eric Umansky suggested that we could spice it up a bit by adding funny illustrations, considering the names of many of the programs, such as ‘Nosy Smurf’ or ‘Egotistical Goat’. I made a few quick sketches (see below) and we got a go. The final drawings were done with Adobe Illustrator. This is an explanation of the project.

At first, I thought that these were too cartoony and childish, and not a good fit for ProPublica, a serious news organization fully devoted to investigative reporting, but Eric, Jeff, and Julia thought otherwise. I guess that these stupid icons are an appropriate depiction of the stupid names that the NSA had chosen. You could say that style follows purpose.

(A note about jokes: Hats and masks are inspired by Spy vs. Spy, and the Royal Concierge icon may puzzle those who have not watched a certain TV show yet.)