Monitoring the performance of your information documents is both the first and the last stage in designing effective information documents. Document design is cyclical: to improve your existing documents, you first have to monitor and evaluate their public performance, a practice that is rarely undertaken. When you realise how poorly your information documents perform (and this, sadly, is the norm), you can start thinking about improving them, using these Diagnostic Guidelines.
How to use these Guidelines
Use these Guidelinesto diagnose the performance of an organisation’s current communication practices.
While you are using these Guidelines, think about how CRI can improve them, change them, or add to them, to make them better for you. Add your comments at the end, contact us directly, or join the Members Forum to discuss them with other Members.
Where to start
It might seem odd to start at the monitoring stage, as it looks like the end, but communication is a ongoing process, constantly changing to meet new circumstances. Regular monitoring is essential.
For example, the Telecom Bill we designed in 1987 met our performance standards when it was released: over 81% of customers could use the bill to find what they were looking for and effectively use what they found. When we retested the same design in 2002, only 42% of customers could use it at an acceptable level.
This performance level—around 40%—is quite common for public documents in use that have not been designed or re-designed by professional information designers. It shows the extent to which even a well designed document can deteriorate. Our best guess based on years of experience is that most public documents can begin to deteriorate within 6 months of introduction.
The need to change a design usually occurs when its performance in use is monitored, and its deterioration becomes clear. You can use these Guidelines, together with our standards, to begin advocating for change.
If you are advocating for change
Like a doctor, you will be looking for symptoms of a document’s health. Just as a doctor tries to diagnose the health of a patient before recommending a treatment, so you should diagnose the health of an organisation’s communication before advocating for changes or improvements in communication practices. And much as a doctor draws on medical research, clinical trials and practice to arrive at a diagnosis of a patient, so these Guidelines draw on communication research, case histories, and years of practical experience to help begin the difficult process of persuading an organisation to lift its communication to acceptable standards. By using these Guidelines you will be able to start the process of building a really strong evidence-based case for change.
If you want to make changes
Think of these Guidelines as the start of a long journey that over time will bring you back to where you started, but wiser, with a healthier organisation and a much better understanding of the people it serves.
You cannot conduct a full diagnosis using these Guidelines, but you can run some important checks on how the current communication practices are performing—which is an important part of how an organisation is performing—to find out whether they need a visit to the doctor, as it were.
Our Guidelines are your first step through the stages of designing information for people, from Scoping back to Monitoring.
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