back to article NSA accused of new crimes ... against slideware

The NSA's much-discussed PRISM initiative has attracted criticism galore from political activists, but now it has come up against serious opposition: a ticked-off designer offended by the poor quality of the NSA's slideware. The designer in question is Emiland De Cubber, a slideware professional who has declared the NSA “can …


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  1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge


    Can we please move on to a post-metro design aesthetic? Pretty please? You don't have to steamroller every single graphic that exists on a computer. What's next? Intellivision's resurgence as the ultimate in "Simple" interfaces and design principles?

    Mine's the one with a flat controller containing a number pad and large silver circle in one pocket and a cartridge for discus in the other.

    1. Steve Knox

      Re: Yech

      Not if Apple's iOS7 is any indicator...

      1. LarsG

        Re: Yech

        I for one like the flattened minimalist style, through that doesn't take away the fact that this guy is a self publishing prat. Still it worked for him didn't it.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good to see someone with their priorities in order

    Figues, NSA commits the biggest constitutional violation since a particulalry dodgy kebab I had a month or so back, and all this guy can think of is 'how do I use this to get my name out there' ..

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: Good to see someone with their priorities in order

      Seriously, The biggest attack ever against the US Constitution is exposed, and all that dingletwat can find to be upset about is "Their presentation is sooo tacky?"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Captain DaFt Re: Good to see someone with their priorities in order

        Upvoted for dingletwat .

  3. Steve Knox


    Are you trying to force us to choose between agreeing with the NSA or with a powerpoint consultant!?

    Well here's my way out of that trap:

    I for one am glad that the NSA slides show no understanding of graphic design, for two important reasons:

    1. It means that they probably didn't waste money on some self-important "slideware professional," and

    2. At least we can take solace in the fact that those who've been spying on us have had their eyes raped by that hideous slide, and hopefully a few hundred more like it. It's not much, but it's a start.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Actually, it probably DOES mean that they wasted money on a slideware professional.

  4. Pen-y-gors


    Actually, his design is rubbish. I (like I suspect many people) tend to read top to bottom, so saw it as Google being first - the beautiful but very subtle delicate colour of the years along the bottom axis totally faded into the background. It's a really, really ineffective design, unlike the original, which may look nasty (and be describing something very, very nasty) but at least the meaning is obvious.

    1. Gavin King

      Re: FAIL!

      But, but, you're missing the point.

      It's far more import ant for everything to look not only good, but indistinguishable, than it is to actually convey anything at all.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: FAIL!

        Whats more, at a quick glance, it looks like Google is most at fault. The truth only comes out when you read it properly, which a lot of people wont do! (So its not technically incorrect)

        All in all, seems like towing the party line for the current administration.

        (Note, I use the joke icon, but i'm not actually certain i am joking at this point)

    2. Parax

      Re: FAIL!

      yup I agree.

      Timeline is clear to understand.

      Names of companies are easier to understand than logo's like the speech bubble... also if you don't recognise a name you can note it down and google it, if you don't recognise a logo you're screwed.. what are you supposed to do? sketch it scan it and ask google image search? Let me know how that turns out for you...

      The only thing he has achieved is to invert the tones, dark background with brighter forground is sometimes easier on the eyes than the white background...

      But, I wouldn't pay him a penny for that.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: FAIL!

        I have to agree with the OP, I did understand the chart, but from a design perspective it is meh as it is open to be misunderstood. It really isn't intuitive.

    3. TomChaton

      Re: FAIL!

      Has he not heard of anti-aliasing either?

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: FAIL!

      I (like I suspect many people) tend to read top to bottom, so saw it as Google being first - the beautiful but very subtle delicate colour of the years along the bottom axis totally faded into the background. It's a really, really ineffective design

      Agreed. And this particular problem could be trivially fixed simply by top-justifying the columns of icons on that slide, so that the list of "providers" for each year starts at the same distance from the top of the slide. That still wouldn't be as clear as the original, but it wouldn't be as misleading as the proposed replacement.

      A slide designer he might be, but I have to wonder if he's familiar with any of the actual research (eg eye-tracking studies and visual-comprehension studies), or the relevant theory in any area other than aesthetics (eg visual rhetoric, technical communication).

      Of course, no one design is appropriate for all presentations. Audience and occasion should determine slide content and appearance, not some general aesthetic.

      When I give technical presentations on our software to customers, my slides are very straightforward: a few short bullet points, a small section of a screenshot, a short code fragment. And they all use the style (font, background, layout, organization) mandated by Marketing at the time. When I present at academic conferences, on the other hand, my audience is rhetoric scholars - hyperliterate subject-matter experts who habitually analyze everything and are there for the theoretical concepts, not specific facts. So my slides are hermeneutic and don't replicate material from the talk itself. There are no bullet points. Some slides are just a few words or a phrase in black text on a white background; some are a long text passage with a few words highlighted; some are collages of text and images. They're part of a performance, to make things a bit more entertaining and less dry for the folks sitting through 75 minutes (3-4 speakers plus Q&A) of arcane discussion.

      The corporate slides, which work well for their purpose, would be tiresome in the academic setting; the academic slides would be a disaster at a software user conference.

  5. Matt Bryant Silver badge


    Seriously, the sheeple need to get some perspective. "The NSA may be watching my browsing!" Shriek, scream, run around like headless chickens. Bet they all sign up for Google's Waze, WILLINGLY letting a private and unaccountable third party follow their every move through the GPS in their phone, something the NSA can only dream of.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FFS.

      They also use Viber, WhatsApp, iMessage, Siri (and Android equivalents), Google maps and EVERYONE is providing data to Google via its backdoors called Google statistics and Google fonts (try to find a Wordpress template without it).

      The main advantage of volume tracking for those with a clue is that the S/N ratio is rubbish. All you need to do is make your traffic look like the noise, a sort of CDMA approach to information cloaking. Not that I have anything interesting, but it pisses me off that someone decides for me that my privacy isn't really important. Well, screw that.

  6. Winkypop Silver badge


    A "slideware professional" is a THING?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    everyone's one to have their 5 miliseconds of fame

    even an SSDE (Senior Slide Designer Executive)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When the revolution comes

    the PowerPoint consultants will be first up against the wall.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Big Brother

      There will be no revolution and PowerPointistas everywhere will sleep safe in their beds

      The NSA will see to that.

      Your comment has been stored and may be used against you at a later date.

  9. lee harvey osmond

    Secrecy and aesthetics

    Let's assume I have drunk far too many vodka martinis to be able to use PowerPoint efficiently. [I'm not sure, but the number might be 'none'.] I might then have somebody prepare some slides for me to explain how/when/why I lost the DB5, the exploding pen and so on.

    And such information is, like, secret, as in SECRET Intelligence Service. [Unlike NSA, "Not Secret Anymore".]

    Which office PowerPoint-wallah do I choose? Somebody who will try to show the world his work because he thinks it's beautiful, or someone who will try to hide his work because there's no denying it's ugly?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Secrecy and aesthetics

      Let's assume I have drunk far too many vodka martinis to be able to use PowerPoint efficiently

      Having drunk vodka martinis is the only way to use Powerpoint effectively. And there's no such thing as too many when it comes to vodka martinis.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I eagerly await

    The inevitable adoption by graphic designers everywhere of the delightfully retro GeoCities Chic.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I eagerly await

      " The inevitable adoption by graphic designers everywhere of the delightfully retro GeoCities Chic "

      Spend half an hour cruising through Tumblr's blogs. There's a scary number of'em popping up that look (And Sound!) like Geocities at its worst.

      So far, the only thing I haven't seen is "under construction" gif!

  11. Dr. Ellen

    Art! Art! (Cue the Great Gonzo)

    I looked at the NSA slide, and knew what it was talking about. I looked at the redesigned slide, and had to think. This is not an improvement.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Art! Art! (Cue the Great Gonzo)

      Agreed. Although the NSA slide looked like a college Freshmans first attempt it did convey the information effectively. The new design is not intuitive.

      There's a lot of people (myself included) that prefer a simple no/low aesthetic presentation because you don't want the audience too focused on the slides. People suck at learning when there is too much coming at them and I would rather them focus in what I'm saying with the slides there just to remind them of key points.

  12. MatsSvensson


    He should keep his day job.

    Nobody needs another fucking lowlow-contrast "designer".

    1. graeme leggett Silver badge

      Re: Useless

      It's certainly going to eat up the toner if it gets printed out.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    As amateurish as the NSA slides are.....

    I rather prefer them to the Powerpoint consultant's version. Obviously one of those technically proficient types who assumes that because he knows what Apple's/FB's/Etc. logos are, then everyone knows.

    Also that gray slide background makes the slides look even more Orwellian,

  14. JeffyPooh

    PowerPoint 101

    Every tiny one square cm image must be full resolution, at least 24MB each.

    Do not under any circumstances scale the images' resolution down. Do not compress the images.

    It's critical that the audience actually see the images being slowly drawn on the screen.

    Having a 200GB ppt file also helps with file security, and indirectly helps to ensure full employment within the agency.

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