The showdown of the swingers

On-screen graphics consultancies Intro and Plume braved election night to review the effectiveness of the graphics created by the BBC and ITN for their all-night coverage of what turned out to be a monumental victory for the Labour Party. Adrian Shaughnes

It has been reported that the BBC has spent 1m on two Silicon Graphics Onyx workstations. They were much in evidence on Thursday night’s Election 97 show, but regrettably they have deprived the nation of one of its great delights – Peter Snow and his mechanical swingometer.

Nowadays Peter’s swingometer is digital and much less enjoyable than the wobbly pendulum of old.

The evening began with a portentous title sequence designed to remind us of the BBC’s supremacy in the broadcasting of matters of national importance. Unfortunately, the sequence merely evoked unkind memories of Chris Morris and The Day Today.

The programme was a triumph of information management. Whether it can be called a design triumph is another matter. Within seconds of the nation’s returning officers delivering their constituencies’ verdicts, the graphics team flashed up the scores – correctly colour-coded and placed over a map of the UK with the relevant constituency highlighted in the colour of the winning party – while simultaneously an animated 3D graphic displayed the victor’s percentage swing. Weighty quotes from the victorious and the vanquished were similarly presented, often within seconds of being uttered.

The instantaneous graphics undoubtedly contributed to the drama of the evening and acted as an effective filter for the flood of information, but the overall appearance was ultimately disappointing. The tone was set by the programme logo with its nod to rave culture (a blue e set in an orange x). And when combined with 3D renderings of the insides of No 10 and the House of Commons, and laughable graphic representations of election night trends (John Major engulfed in gunge), the impression was of Playstation meets Sky Sports.

It may be an inevitable consequence of real-time graphics that garishness creeps in, but perhaps this is a small price to pay for the brilliant feat of presenting so much data in a coherent form. I will continue to spend election nights with the BBC, unless, of course, they replace David Dimbleby with the News Bunny.

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