What happened to slides in May 2020?

For five weeks to 9 May, the slides shown during the UK TV Daily Briefings didn’t change much. A few Excel-Wizard graphs. Some words. Basic stuff.

Then on 10 May, there’s a lull - the Government website has no slides for that day..?! Why? No Briefing that day? Or no slides? Who knows? Maybe the Comms bods were beavering away on the Great New Look, because on 11 May, the slides had changed. For better and for worse.

The slides got ‘sophisticated’: up until 9 May, the slides were typographically basic. Black font on white slide. From 11 May, some slides had reversed fonts – white font on blue background – see Figure 1 which is one half of a slide. And icons appeared. Icons of masks, hospitals, beds, houses, etc. More on icons later. Or rather, moron icons later.

The graphs eschewed the Excel-Wizard. Up to 9 May, we saw graphs like Figure 2 – typical Excel-Wizard stuff. And typographically not good, as my previous email explains.

The 11 May Briefing had no graphs, but on 12 May, Figure 3 was revealed to an eager public – not ten lines on one graph, but one line on ten graphs (Figure 3 shows just six lines to illustrate). Smart. Much better, albeit if you read my previous 'typographical' email, you’d know one or two small improvements to make.

As for those icons... On 11 May, we saw for the first time the three Steps to ease lock-down (Fig 4). And look... icons! And they clearly show that Step 1 involves sitting on a bench under a tree, plus show someone wearing a yellow hat…. construction, perhaps? Step 2 clearly shows something open – but what? Cinema? Pub? Shop? And Step 3 shows food… restaurants? Take-aways?

Words would help, of course. And yes, there are words further down the slide under the graph, but they're too small to read, plus their reversed font slows reading speed. Not helpful.

But it gets worse. Words and icons conflict with each other. Step 1 has more icons than words (there’s no words for the yellow-hat person), and Step 3 has more words than icons (there’s no icon for places of worship). Which is correct? Icons or words? Who knows? 

And here’s the $64,000 question: do you know why the slide's font sizes are so small? Because of the icons – they take up too much space.

Remove the icons and we've room for bigger fonts (Fig 5 - my icon-free redo). Much clearer – and no icons to contradict the words. (However, I’m still unsure if my words should mention the yellow-hat person.)

Finally, remember this: I’m not against icons. I’m against bad icons. The vast majority are bad. This previous email explains when icons work and when they don’t.

A testing time for icons: in the weeks after 11 May, the Briefings showed the number of tests, and put an icon by that number. But on 10 June, the Briefings analysed tests by type – antigen, antibody, serology, plus ‘total’ tests. Icon alert, icon alert – four different icons needed. Well, with icons, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you find you get what you need. Result: an open mouth with a tongue hanging out (Fig 6 - which represented 'total' tests, notwithstanding that many tests aren't done by mouth...).

And which is somewhat reminiscent of the Rolling Stones icon (Fig 7).

But on 10 June, there was more. At last (!) someone had found a ‘worship’ icon (as you may remember, it was absent from Figure 4 above) – the icon was ‘two hands clasped together in prayer’.

Yes, 10 June was icon-heaven. Twenty four of them. A Briefings’ record. Several never appeared again in future briefings, so viewers didn't benefit from icon-familiarity arising from their repeated use. Also, one icon appeared on three slides for three different things…. just nuts. Still, the icons looked nice, I suppose. As would photos of cheese crackers or fish – and if this last comment confuses, see the end of my previous email on icons.

On that note, stay safe

Clarity and Impact Ltd | +44 20 8840 4507 | jon@jmoon.co.uk | www.jmoon.co.uk

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