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A brief history of the US government’s awful graphic design

  • David Yanofsky
By David Yanofsky

Editor of code, visuals, and data

United StatesPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The revelation that major US technology companies are participating in a National Security Administration surveillance program was shocking enough. And that was before we saw the top-secret slides used by the government to describe the spying operation. They are, to put it mildly, heinously ugly…

Washington Post

The slides immediately attracted scorn on Twitter, even inspiring graphics luminary Edward Tufte to weigh in:

The US government, though, is no stranger to bad graphic design. The Department of Defense is a particularly egregious offender, with its hopelessly complex network diagrams

over-the-top collages

…and tacky flow charts.

But the military is hardly the only offender.

From the Department of State:

The Environmental Protection Agency:


The US Small Business Administration:

From New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (pdf):

And, finally, from the Department of Homeland Security, a design that’s not exactly ugly but certainly disorienting:


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