So here’s the problem. You’ve got documents that you need people to understand, but they’re not exactly an exciting read. Don’t worry – you’re not alone. Most companies are stuck with a ream of policies and procedures languishing in filing cabinets. Sometimes they’re just there to meet statutory requirements –documents for documents’ sake. But other times it would be really useful for people to actually read them and take in the information they contain.
If you want your colleagues to take in your policies and procedures, you might need to think past an impenetrable, black and white Word document. Take a little time to think through the design, and you’ll find a real difference in how they’re received. Here are 6 of our top tips, with examples from our work for Wellbeing Teams, Alzheimer’s Society and Family for Every Child.
1. Keep it on brand
Even if documents are for internal use only, it’s important to see them as an opportunity to reinforce your brand with your company’s employees. Taking the time to brand internal documents properly shows that you care about their experience, and communicates the fact that your brand is really important.
The key elements to think about here are the visual design of your document and it’s tone of voice. For example, if your brand is friendly and chatty externally, internal guidance could be a reflection of that. Alternatively if your tone of voice is direct and authoritative, it would be jarring to have internal documents that seem too casual.
If you’re producing an external policy document, and don’t have branding already in place, consider creating a simple standalone visual identity, such as the one we produced for the Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration. As these were a collaborative piece of work, they couldn’t represent any single organisation’s branding – but developing a simple visual identity made the policy’s communication much more consistent across a variety of media, such as posters and social media images.
2. Make collaboration easy with Google Docs
It’s not thought of as design software, but Google Docs could be the ideal application for creating handbooks or policy documents that will need regular updating.
Layout software such as InDesign is usually only used by graphic designers, so any collaborative documents need to use an alternative. On the other hand, Microsoft Word doesn’t always display documents consistently – it depends on the fonts on a person’s computer and the version of Word that they have. Google Docs, because it’s online, always displays documents the same on anybody’s computer and gives you access to a wide range of fonts as standard. Branded elements can be created using the ‘Drawing’ function, as in this example for Wellbeing Teams. Finally, the version history function makes it ideal for updating and collaborating in teams.
3. Develop a consistent visual language
Before starting, map the types of information in the document and create a standard visual language to differentiate each part.
For example, when designing the Guidelines on Children’s Reintegration for Family for Every Child, there were some specific features:
- Section title
- Section intro
- Highlight boxes
By differentiating each one visually, the document is made easier to process for the reader.
4. Colour code for quick reference
This is a simple one, but it’s often overlooked. Many policy documents are just left as black and white Word documents – which practically admits that they are never really going to be read!
If you want your document to be referred back to, ease of information processing is essential; and colour can be a simple tool to split the document into easy-to-find sections.
5. Choose a practical format for usability
Do you want your document to be stored in a filing cabinet, uploaded to an intranet, or carried around in a bag? Thinking through how you want it to be used will often lead you to the most appropriate format. As a rule of thumb, documents that are going to be viewed on a screen will be easier to digest if they are designed in a landscape format that matches a computer screen layout. On the other hand, if you want something that people will refer to regularly, consider making it easy to carry around – such as this A5 handbook for the care provider Wellbeing Teams, that fits comfortably in the workers’ bags.
6. Support it with quick reference versions
Whilst there might be a lot of information people need to understand, there’s only so much we can expect people to remember at all times.
If you have something that you want people to be able to remember day-to-day, edit down the guidance into the key points and produce a quick reference guide. This version of the guidance for Alzheimer’s Society’s Side by Side service folds down to credit card size so it fits neatly in the staff member’s wallet. It gives them an at-a-glance version of what they need to remember, and signposts them to the full guidance document if they need to know more.
Got a policy document that you want people to actually read? Get in touch for more advice on writing and design via firstname.lastname@example.org.