In WWII, Germany used secret and efficient devices to help communicate strategies.

One of these devices was the Enigma machine. (Makes a great band name: Enigma Machine. I don’t think I’d like the music.)


In The Ultimate Spy Book, this diagram (titled “Mechanism of the Enigma”—a great podcast name) shows how the Enigma machine works. The first four steps are straightforward. Left to right, drop cap numbers, text positioned like captions under individual photos:


Then, the designer decided to reflect the structure of the machine on the page with four separate photos, and to show how mechanism of action runs through these parts. It’s terribly confusing. The eye has to search for the next number, and because we’re already holding numeric information in our head with the examples about the machine’s workings, this is all even more…enigmatic.


What if the steps were arranged vertically, in numerical order on either side of the diagram (5, 6, 7 on the left; 8, 9, 10 on the right), with the hairlines pointing to the referenced parts of the machine? If the directional arrows/lines must be retained, what if they were shown in gray, so as not to compete for attention with the hairlines? I think such adjustments would improve clarity.

True to the Dorling Kindersley (DK) brand, this book is like a museum between covers (and generally, very nicely laid out). Tomorrow, I’ll share a bit about photographs and drawings that were used to conceal messages. Meanwhile, you might find this short video on Enigma machines interesting.