President Obama gets a lot of credit for mounting a presidential campaign–and government–that uses 21st century technologies in an unprecedented ways, from his online organizing and fund-raising efforts to his government transparency initiative. But he remains as musty as John Adams, in at least one respect: His insistence to use speeches alone, unaided by charts or graphs, to get his point across. As Ezra Klein, a health-care blogger for the Washington Post writes:
Congressmen routinely use graphs to illustrate points in their floor speeches or arguments around legislation. But presidents don’t much use graphs. They still rely on people listening to them speak for an hour, or going to reread a transcript, or getting an accurate summation from the media. It’s not a terribly efficient way to communicate. Not, at least, compared with graphs. For instance, what’s more useful in understanding the basic shape of health-care reform? Every word you’ve heard or read up until this point, or Nick Beaudrot’s flowchart? [Pictured above.]
Now, no one is suggesting that flow charts and graphs would have the power to define the debate. But they might–after all, if you’ve got an MBA or are familiar with the communication mantras practiced by McKinsey et al, then you know there’s a business-world fetish with that one powerpoint slide that totally encapsulates a problem. Our culture is quickly growing to accept the idea of a definitive infographic, because infographics are better able to model an issue, in its sweep and complexity, than a mountain of words possibly can. No one, outside of CEO’s at investor meetings and politicians, still communicates with huge groups using speeches alone.
Why shouldn’t last week’s address to Congress have been accompanied by a couple charts? They would have be flashed on screen endlessly afterward—more powerful than any meandering quote.
As Klein points out, Ross Perot gained tremendous momentum during his 1992 presidential run by using charts during presentations. And in the meantime, pundits, media outlets, and politicians are all experimenting with infographics.
There was, for example, this intentionally terrifying chart, produced by House Republicans, which purported to illustrate the Democratic plan for health reform. That chart in turn prompted a Democratic rebuttal, and a segment on the Daily Show, where John Stewart likens the Republican scare-chart to a “dildo rolled in glitter.”
Well, President Obama? What’s going on? You’ve got approximately 99.9999% of all graphic designers totally in the can. Why can’t you guys order up some pretty graphs?