“Younger people not fully complying: you are wrong.”
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 24, 2020
That was the blunt message to a key demographic that was not complying with quarantine recommendations from the deck that ran alongside New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus briefing the Saturday before last. Cuomo tweeted the image out on the March 24, and it received a slew of approving comments: “I plan on incorporating this slide into every single PowerPoint presentation I ever make for the rest of my life”; “It’s like the miracle slide we’ve all been waiting for”; “#PresidentCuomo”; “Meme this, people. I love this so much!”.
Not since Steve Jobs’s iPhone keynote have people gotten so excited about a presentation. There are good reasons why. With more cases than anywhere else in the country, New York has become the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the United States. And as people look for a voice of reason amid the crisis, they are turning to that state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, as an example of leadership in dire times. Cuomo has gained a national spotlight due to both the sheer numbers putting his state in critical condition (59,219 as of March 30, in comparison to the state with the next highest case level, New Jersey, at 13,386) and due to his response to the health crisis, with daily briefings that have a sense of authority and stability. He has been recognized as the “politician of the moment” and an “authoritative voice“; “at the center of attention” because of his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But with each briefing, it’s become increasingly apparent: There’s a secret star. His PowerPoint slides.
Cuomo’s briefings are as much explainers as they are news updates: breaking down dates, details, and definitions new to public use (who knew what “social distancing” meant before the coronavirus crisis?) into bite-size, digestible pieces. Data is presented in a clear, readable, and comparable way. While they may not be artful, his slides exemplify information design’s best practices: consistent pacing; images balanced with text; drawing out key takeaways and most important learnings for a general audience; and distilling a slew of information into its most important details.
At this past Sunday’s briefing, Cuomo addressed the “apex” of the “curve,” a rather complicated way to describe how we need to slow the spread of coronavirus in correlation to the ability of hospitals to meet demand for new patients, step-by-step: What do you need at the apex? When will it happen? As he spoke, a corresponding “update” slide broke down his preparations into at-a-glance graphics: “Apex: 14-21 days,” reads the header, with three subcategorized needs below: beds, PPE, and staff.
Cuomo breaks down other terms that are making headlines, too. In a brief explainer, Cuomo explicitly laid out why ventilators are vital to the coronavirus crisis for those who had never heard of them, alongside a series of explanatory slides. The first shows an image of what a ventilator looks like, followed by a slide that explains the average length of use in two concise, color-coded points: “the average length of stay on a ventilator is usually 3-4 days”; “With COVID, patients stay on ventilators for 11-21 days,” the slide reads. It’s followed by a slide that outlines what will happen if there aren’t enough: He pulls out a bag valve mask that requires manual hand-pumping to operate. “No thank you,” says the subsequent slide.
Cuomo also lays out data to respond directly to recent lobs from President Trump, who questioned New York’s need for 30,000 to 40,000 ventilators. Alongside the slide headline: “Question: Do you really need 30k ventilators?” “Answer: Numbers – Data – Science say: 140,000 hospital beds. 30,000 ICU/ventilators at apex. Ventilators cost about $25k – $45k each.” Cuomo explained that the state is preparing for that aforementioned apex—the height of public need—based on data. And with a price tag of up to $45,000 each, “I have no desire to procure more ventilators than we need.” In the age of misinformation, Cuomo is attempting to combat fiction with fact.
In the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis, Cuomo’s briefings provide a form of daily stasis. It shows you don’t necessarily need the sleek design of, say, this new Wieden + Kennedy coronavirus PSA to communicate well. Governor Cuomo’s low-fi PowerPoints are equally as good, if not better, from an information design standpoint: clear, concise, and to the point.
“We’re fighting two things: we’re fighting the virus, and we’re fighting the fear,” Cuomo said at his briefing this past Sunday. There’s also a clear lesson for governors, public health officials, and other politicians who will face this pandemic’s apex next: clear information design gives constituents the power to fight both.