In Brief

The C.I.A. rebrands

Washington D.C.

8 January 2021

“We’ve come a long way since I applied by simply mailing a letter marked ‘CIA, Washington, D.C.,’” said Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, as she revealed a rebrand of the government agency's website.

Set against a black background, the new website makes heavy use of thin white lines that form topographical contours. In contrast to the more bureaucratic appearance of other governmental websites, the CIA's new approach is clearly graphic design lit – for better or worse.

“If I didn’t read the copy, I wouldn’t know if this was for a direct-to-consumer designer toothbrush or an organization that’s been accused of destabilizing governments worldwide,” said Eric Hu, a former design director at Nike Sportswear, as reported by The New York Times.

The agency itself tied the redesign to a series of new recruitment initiatives that aim to attract more diverse candidates to join the C.I.A.. The first link on the new website sends you through to the agency's recruitment page.

“We are the Nation's first line of defense,” the text reads. “We accomplish what others cannot accomplish and go where others cannot go. A career at CIA is unlike any other. We are looking for people from all backgrounds and walks of life to carry out the work of a Nation.”

The C.I.A. has longstanding issues surrounding a lack of diversity. In 2015, a declassified report revealed that only 10.8 per cent of its leaders were non-white. “The Agency's workforce is not diverse,” read the report's conclusion, adding that “the more senior the Agency's workforce is, the less diverse it is.”

The rebrand, for which the C.I.A. has not revealed the design agency it worked with, has come in for heavy criticism online, with many critiquing the mismatch between a graphic identity that borrows visual cues from album art and posters, with a government agency that has frequently been linked to destabilising foreign governments.

The graphic designer Ryder Ripps trolled Instagram by claiming credit for the redesign after some users suggested that he was behind the design.

“I think it’s pretty bad,” he wrote, “mostly because it’s looking from the inside to the outside of design – referencing ‘cool’ design of today (maybe actually a few years ago), all the while the government (and CIA) already has a very strong Federal design language. It probably could have used some tweaking for an update.”