Flash Bang ... Flag?

For the second year, the State of the Union Address featured an enhanced YouTube broadcast, an innovative way to place facts and figures alongside the rhetoric. Like any successful infographic, the data needed to be presented in a unique format that's easily digestible by the diverse millions tuning in. But it can't resort to middle management PowerPoint cliches, either. Business leaders looking for visual tips for their own presentations could learn a few things from last night's address. Unfortunately, there were "don'ts" in the mix, too. When the White House uses clip art-style lightning bolts, imagery from Pac-Man, and seemingly borrows Photoshop lessons from Perez Hilton, it's the digital equivalent of dressing the President in a clip-on piano key necktie."

The Promise of American Energy" ... is a great place to start. The U.S. relying on its own resources more, particularly if they're sustainable seems like a great idea.

But the imagery misses out on an opportunity to present a new point of entry into this idea. And a tiny clipart-ish lightning bolt colored in red, white, and blue? It's the kind of thing you'd expect on an ironic flyer for an electro band, maybe not as an icon for an innovative global initiative.

Independence Day
Government is broken in many ways, many folks would agree (whichever side of the red/blue divide your allegiances fall).

But this graphic seems ... rushed. Or at best, inspired by Roland Emmerich. It's tough to illustrate the ideological divisions in Congress, but this line isn't really isn't separating Democrats from Republicans as much as it is dividing the House from the Senate, which ... is sort of the way this whole thing is supposed to work. Rather, it reminds us of the way Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum saved the Earth from total destruction by uploading a virus to the mothership--but not before aliens sent a laser beam straight through the White House blowing it to smithereens. Actually, that would be a hell of great slide.

The Influence of Pacs
The maze that laid-off workers have to navigate to get a new job, particularly in our slightly fragile economic environment, is indeed complex. It's also laden with pitfalls, worries, and an urgent push to speed through it--all of which creates stress.

Here's a situation where an epic flowchart would have really driven that complexity home. But Pac-Man? Really? Forget that it's an extremely dated reference. Suggesting unemployed people pop power pills and chase ghosts may not be sending the right message.

Bubble Trouble
"Since 2009, the U.S. has emerged as the world's leading producer of natural gas."

Natural gas production--and controversial issues like fracking--is in the news, and rightly so. And this map means well and probably looks much better bigger. But at this size, it's nearly impossible to know what those colored bubbles represent. The lesson here is be mindful of size. And some basic guidelines for appropriate tone and seriousness are violated by lighthearted (Mister) bubbles on top. Put another way, they blow.

Border Patrol By Bigfoot
Patrolling the U.S.'s borders is vital, of course. It keeps undesirables (and undesirable drugs, bombs, and fake Gucci bags) out of America. Boosting the numbers of Border Patrols is likely to satisfy a segment of concerned Americans.

The graphic to drive this point home? On one hand, the simplicity of a "boots on the ground" image makes sense. On the other, is this to scale? Does it really give us a sense of types of numbers increases Obama is pushing? And are we sure that that trusting border patrol to a green-booted, one-legged, clip-art loving bigfoot in 2011 is such a great plan?

Carpe Taurum
We weren't sure about this slide at first--it has a Perez Hilton kind of feel. But yes, that is the Wall Street bull. And the slide is suggesting that the President wants to tackle Wall Street's accountability, by grabbing it by its nose ring. A certain amount of bravery is required for this in the real animal. And conveying that level of challenge is effective.

Ignore that awkward red line and the way the white lettering gets lost in the background in spots, this graphic is something you'd see in a magazine, and it's a little slicker than any clip-art. It also visually drives home the message the President was making with a few powerful words and an appropriate image.

Congress' Clock
"If Congress doesn't act by..." This slide's content is no-nonsense. In a handful of words it communicates the precarious position with pithy accuracy. The photo is actually of $40, the number suggested by the Twitter campaign, and the Twitter logo and hashtag present a clear message to those in the know.

Again this slide is sleek, driven by a powerful message and a few choice words, making the point and driving it home with a personal bent ("160 million Americans"--enough you may be one of 'em). There's even an instruction buried in the use of the #40dollars hashtag, and no awkwardness about the use of this high-tech emblem...like the kind of awkwardness you may remember when newscasters stuttered their way through "aitch tee tee pee, colon, slash...".

Blueprint For Homeowners
The part of the address that covered the President's "Blueprint for an America built to last" was perhaps the strongest bit graphically. This slide is a great example: The blueprint blue backdrop is augmented by technical drawing dotted lines, and simple well-justified text in boxes. The boxes surround meaningful parts of the message and the output--"Average savings $250 a month"--is set apart and distinguished in color so it's easy to spot.

Having a design rubric like this is a powerful way of associating all the different parts of a complicated message into a whole. The slide designers did a pretty neat job here, and while they stuck to the blueprint drawing image, it wasn't intrusive--rather it augmented the President's words.

Fresh Blows The Wind, For Green Energy
This slide is simple and clear, you'd think. Among the "top 5 wind producing countries in megawatts" the U.S. sits in second position, with China producing about 10% more energy from wind, Spain in fourth place about half as much as the U.S.

U.S.A., U.S.A! It's great that the U.S. is trying to harvest green energy resources. And the slide shows that among peer nations, it's performing pretty darn well--especially for a country internationally famous for gas-guzzling cars. We're a little uneasy about the cheesy windmill graphic (as was the designer, who made it faintly colored) but it'll ride.

Yet wait. The title needs work: America is the second biggest producer of wind in the world (think about it). The population of Spain is a tiny fraction of the U.S.'s, and the national energy consumption is much lower. Which translates to a greater share of green energy production from wind power in Spain than the U.S., and thus a greater commitment to the task of lowering carbon emissions. So the slide is almost a hit--but it demonstrates you have to be careful to project the right message.

Be Like Steve
The President used Steve Jobs as an example for a good policy to follow: "...we should support everyone who’s willing to work; and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs," he argued.

The slide that the White House chose to augment this part of the speech stands out from all the rest. It contains Obama's own personal statement issued on Jobs' passing, which was evidently an emotionally driven message, and tech-forward too. That's a little self-serving...

But instead of going for a photo of Steve and Barack shaking hands, or of some Apple gear, the slide simply went with Apple's own tribute image--white, simple, straightforward, and sensitive to the trends of the Internet. A stylish move.

Now, about all of those jobs outsourced to China ...

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5 Best And Worst Slides From The Presidential PowerPoint

For the second year, the State of the Union Address featured an enhanced YouTube broadcast, an innovative way to place facts and figures alongside the rhetoric. Like any successful infographic, the data has to be presented in a unique format that's easily digestible by the diverse millions tuning in. But it can't resort to middle management PowerPoint cliches. Business leaders looking for visual tips for their own presentations could learn a few things from last night's address. Unfortunately, there were "don'ts" in the mix, too. When the White House uses clip art-style lightning bolts, imagery from Pac-Man, and seemingly borrows Photoshop lessons from Perez Hilton, it's the digital equivalent of dressing the President in a clip-on piano key necktie.

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