When working on permits, plans, and reports for clients, we need to keep in mind how that material will be read and interpreted by our clients. They may be seeking environmental services because they don’t have the in-depth understanding of the programs, and, beyond just seeking someone to write reports for them, they need a way to understand and engage the material to upkeep their sites accordingly. This can be essential to the client’s ability to stay compliant – if forms, documentation, and recordkeeping are essential permit requirements, they need to be user friendly to ensure they are completed accurately.
While this may seem like a given, a basic concept that should already be occurring intuitively, we can all think of times we have had difficulty with understanding something because the materials were not designed with the audience in mind. And the consequences of that poorly designed form, figure, or training presentation can be costlier than we may think. A lapse in recordkeeping or a misunderstood data table can make or break whether the facility is compliant, not to mention the potential safety issues that could arise if something is missed in a routine safety audit checklist.
When the stakes aren’t quite so high, audience-oriented design can still reap great benefits. Every spring I help a local community college at their Arbor Day event held on campus where we interact directly with students. This helps the college meet their Stormwater Management Plan requirements to conduct public education for the residents (or in this case, students) for stormwater pollution prevention methods used by the campus that students can recognize throughout the school year and join in on as well. In past years, this event hasn’t been as fruitful as it could have been, as students didn’t engage with the posters and pamphlets too deeply. The materials were too information-dense and generic; there was too much to read for an event booth poster display and the content wasn’t catered to the audience of the students. I’ve been able to rethink how information on stormwater management could be presented to students in an engaging display with clean design catered to the audience and event. And as a result, students were able to gain a clearer understanding of what their administrators are doing to combat stormwater pollution and learn how they can fit into those efforts. The campus stormwater management team was pleased to see this engagement from the students as they were given better materials to learn from.
If we can continue to design thoughtful materials with the smaller projects, we build principles that we can apply to the weightier ones as well. For more information or questions, please contact Ava Lindstrom.