Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What Is The Color Of Duty? (Cymbolism.com via Information Aesthetics)

Information Aesthetics points to an interesting website today called Cymbolism. Cymbolism is a site for designers "that attempts to quantify the association between colors and words, making it simple for designers to choose the best colors for the desired emotional effect." So, for example, many people associate the color red with "love" or "passion".

Not everyone, though. Take a look at the picture of "passion" below:


It is a little hard to tell but red and maroon seem to to take up only about two thirds of the spectrum. Other colors such as fuschia, black and brown seem to get a number of votes as well.

Words such as "duty" are even worse:


There seems to be little consensus and a designer using grey or black to communicate "duty" would be ignoring the collected minority opinions of about 75% of the population.

All this reminded me of the difficulty of using words to describe intelligence findings. Rachel Kesselman's thesis on the meanings and uses of the various words of estimative probability in NIEs sprung to mind, of course, but this effect is noticeable in many other aspects of intelligence as well. One man's "freedom fighter" is another man's "terrorist", for example.

Other, less trivial, examples also occurred to me. Recently, I began my strategic intelligence classes by having the students select their strategic projects. As usual, we have a wide range of projects, sponsored by business, law enforcement and national security decisionmakers. The student's first task, again, as usual, is to discuss the decisionmaker's intelligence requirement with that decisionmaker -- a process that is always fraught with difficulty on the surface but which pays enormous dividends to both the student team and the decisionmaker up front. It is fraught with difficulty because the students know little about the problem with which they are to be tasked and the decisionmakers (typically) know little about the capabilities and limitations of the student analysts in our program.

The benefit, however, comes from both sides having to explain themselves to each other. It is an axiom of education that really knowing a subject means being able to explain it simply and well. Forcing both parties in the intelligence requirements meeting to explain themselves, to define terms, to answer "stupid questions" seems to me to go a long way toward eliminating the problem of one side thinking "duty" is blue and the other side thinking "duty" is gray.

1 comment:

William said...

Thanks for this post! The colors for the word "secure" were sufficiently interesting that I decided to use them as my new blog header image.