Wednesday, October 20, 2010

clarity 2010

I just returned from the CLARITY 2010 conference in Lisbon, Portugal. It was an excellent conference with attendees and speakers from all over the world, USA, UK, South Africa, Australia, Hong Kong, to name just a few. CLARITY promotes plain legal language. I spoke on the topic "beyond plain language." As most of you know, I believe that plain language is only part of clear communications and sometimes not a very important part. My talk centered around plain language, graphic design, psychology and usability, focusing on the last three. I wanted to point out that plain language does not necessarily solve the problem of clear communications and that is, after all, what we are all trying to achieve.

I used examples showing use of white space, fonts, usability testing, etc. The presentation seemed to be well received and i got positive feedback after it. For me, I achieved a few things: First, I got in front of an audience that had an idea of what I was talking about but also was willing to listen and learn. Second, I met many old friends and made new friends. It was especially gratifying to put faces to names of people I have corresponded with through emails and lists. As a fellow of the Communications Research Institute, I was joined by Karen Schriver and Karel van der Waarde. Karel and I had never met, but we spent some talking and it was most enjoyable. Other conversations were just as exciting and rewarding.

Most of the sessions were very worthwhile, but the days were long. My only regret was I couldn't attend all sessions and there was almost no time for questions and discussions. Having attended numerous conferences, I understand the problems with time and logistics and, unfortunately, I don't have any quick solutions.

The fact that I was able to meet people from all over the world, doing similar work was most rewarding. Let me not forget to mention that Lisbon is a very interesting and exciting city and Portugal is a wonderful country. That just added to the overall success of the conference.

Monday, September 20, 2010


The Information Design Doc has been invited to share his knowledge and expertise at the CLARITY 2010 conference in Lisbon, Portugal, October 14-15, 2010. His presentation is entitled:
“CLARITY...beyond plain language. Or you can't have one without the others”
Clarity is an association of lawyers, judges and lay people dedicated to researching and promoting the use of plain legal language. Clarity2010, its fourth international conference, will focus on multidisciplinary ways of achieving clarity in legal, administrative and corporate communications.

i hope to see you there!

Friday, May 14, 2010

what makes a good document design?

Xplor International is doing one of their Lunch and Learn Webinars next Thursday, may 20,  from 1-2 eastern time. The title is “what makes a good document design?” I will be one of the panelists on the webinar. If you would like to join, it is free, either click on this link or go to and click on the “lunch and learn webinar” title, then the what makes a good document design title and there will be registration form.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

step two

A while ago I talked about step one in the process of the redesign of a document. Just to remind you, step one consists of creating a project team and establishing goals. I also talked about the main purpose of the document, that is, what do you want this document to do? Is it an invoice and so needs to get paid? Is it a statement and needs to explain the different components of an account (bank, brokerage retirement, etc.)? Is it an application that needs to be filled out and return for processing (and then processed)?

Whatever the main purpose is, that should be the ultimate goal and what all discussions are focused on. I often see discussions straying from this and leading down other paths that wind up in confusion, lack of purpose and an unsuccessful document.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the members of any good project team represent all areas of an organization and their input is sound and valuable, but the group needs to come together and work as a team.
Step two is the gathering information stage. This step has different parts to it. First, information needs to be gathered about the production of the document – is it produced on line? Or hardcopy, fill-in, system generated, etc? What are the constraints – color, bar codes, mailing, etc?

Then ALL users need to be interviewed. These include not only end users, but all who touch the document through the course of its existence. Most often internal users are not consulted and they often will have information no one else has that may be critical to the document.

Many years ago, I talked to a client who told me they had many lock box addresses and someone within the organization decided to eliminate all but one. Then we did our information gathering and found out there were real and necessary reasons for the multiple ones and that having just one would strangle the organization.

As you go through the gathering information stage, remember the four most important questions to ask:

What is the document’s real purpose?
What other documents must it work with?
Who are the internal and external users?
What are their needs?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

center for plain language awards

It has been a while since I have written anything on my blog. I apologize for that and plan on being more diligent in the future.
Right now I would like to urge you to submit examples of good and bad plain language or information design to the first annual competition sponsored by the Center for Plain Language (CPL). CPL is a non-profit organization located in Washington, DC. They want government and business documents to be clear and understandable. This competition is to see how far documents have come and to view the long road ahead.
The competition is in two parts: ClearMark for those that are the best examples in a variety of categories; print, on line and web in the private, public and non profit sectors in both original and revised documents. The worst examples are vying in for the WonderMark award in two categories – private and public.
The bad news is the deadline is March 1, 2010, but the good news is I am a judge and will not be entering anything. That greatly increases your chances to win.
Go to for more information and entry forms.