Diagram? No, it’s a work of art.

This is not a political post, despite appearances. My feelings verge more toward frank admiration — this chart flirts with genius. If there’s a Mona Lisa of presentational diagrams, this is it. It deserves the highest praise.

Remember, diagrams, charts and presentations can serve one of two purposes. They can be used to persuade or to inform, but rarely both simultaneously. The most insidious, of course, are those which masquerade as information but really intend to persuade.

This diagram is a premier example of the latter. Here we see an “Organizational Chart of the House Democrats’ Health Plan.” Yawn. Let’s watch some golf or water the plants or something, because those would be more stimulating, right? Wrong! To neglect this diagram is to bypass a shining example of communicative art.

Organizational Chart of the House Democrats' Health Plan

Click to zoom in.

Your likely first reaction: ack! This is a monstrosity! Glaring primary colors! Myriad typefaces, bold and italic. Lines to and fro! Shapes! My God, the Democrats’ health plan is an absolute mess!

Clearly the average viewer finds himself persuaded that the proposed health plan would never work, and that a tangled mess of governmental intervention stands between him and his doctor. In that case the diagram has served its purpose well. Everything on this picture is skillfully crafted for precisely that purpose. Let’s dive into some of the ingenious little details…

First, the consumers — poor bastards — are about as far as possible from the health providers as they could be placed. It’s abundantly clear that if that mustachioed gentleman in the glasses wants so much as a Tylenol he’s going to have to wade through bureaucracy to get it. And somehow the low-income families in that glaring red box are probably going to take a cut from him, right? Oh dear, the big red Taxes line goes straight to the IRS, and his Premiums line is virtually a chutes-and-ladders slide right out of his pocket. Obviously that vaguely stop-sign-shaped “Mandate: Buy Insurance” did poor Mr. Mustache no favors at all.

Meanwhile, note that nasty IRS. Everyone hates the IRS. Notice where they were placed? The upper left corner, where eye-tracking research has shown your eye naturally lands. That pointy IRS box dominates the initial view and makes a subtly negative first impression.

Lines crossing lines

Look at all those lines crossing other lines. You know who else uses those little humped-line-crossings? Electricians in their schematics. People know this. How many people know how to read a schematic? Very few. All these carefully drawn, straight lines jumping madly over each other scream one thing: over-complexity.


And if one crossing’s good, certainly three or four is better, yes? That red line leading from “Health Choices Administration” to “Health Affordability Credits” crosses five other lines. Note that it would cross just two if drawn left-and-up rather than left-up-left-up. And lacking lines to cross, the artist was not deterred from complicating matters in other ways: that thick red line from the good doctor to Financial Disclosure Reports adopts a few unnecessary turns en route, apparently “just because.”


What’s going on with the mad variety in colors, shapes and fonts? Did every contributing staffer get to pick one box of their very own to decorate? There’s no rhyme or reason to it: square boxes, ellipses, boxes with rounded corners. Serif, sans-serif. Blue backgrounds don’t seem particularly related, and is a red arrow different from a thin black one? What about the blue arrows? And for some reason, poor Community Health & Care Centers didn’t even get legible, horizontal billing.

If you haven’t noticed it already, let’s peek at that attribution in the bottom-left corner. Joint Economic Committee, Republican Staff. They tipped their cards with that one: this is a biased presentation. Always be vigilant for evidence of clear bias in presentations such as this. It is not meant to inform, it is intended to confound, confuse and to convince the viewer that the Democrats are embracing a tangled up mess. The actual material presented here is likely 100% correct technically. But it is a delightful treat to see such a Machiavellian diagram “in the wild.”


2 thoughts on “Diagram? No, it’s a work of art.

  1. pretty ugly for sure, but is it accurate? if it really portrays the organization of the health care proposal i’m willing to give it the good bad design award. what do the different colored lines mean?

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