In the compilation Information Design as Principled Action, by the estimable Jorge Frascara (q.v.), one reads of a project to redesign a New York City government form. It almost doesn’t matter what the form is for.

The designeuse was Karen Schriver, Ph.D., and the article’s title used the driest bureaucratese available: “The rhetoric of redesign in bureaucratic settings.” This project went completely tits-up in a manner that Schriver, if her doctorate is worth anything, should have been able to anticipate or at least recover from.

Our supervisors on the project – who were staunch advocates of plain language – ran into difficulties when they presented our redesign to the city’s legal team. We had assumed that our project supervisors had appr[a]ised the city’s legal team of the redesign concept as it progressed. The design had gone through four iterations prior to the semifinal version, with each iteration receiving extensive client feedback.

Like many information-design teams, we worked remotely through electronic means and had never met face-to-face. We collaborated through E‑mail and conference calls, but because the legal team did not have (or make) time to participate, we had no access to their opinions.

Note the addition of “(or make)” the time – a clear attempt at deflection.

Months after the redesign had been approved for publication by our project supervisors and collaborators, lawyers for the city voiced skepticism…. First, lawyers argued that they could have done a better job of making a plain-English version. They criticized the revision because it did not use the same legal language as the original. Second, they contended that if the redesign was actually better, it should have been shorter not longer than the original.

Yes, they really said that. And it killed the project.

In retrospect, our team had not anticipated the legal team’s rejection of a citizen-oriented revision.

Again an attempt to shift blame. The client didn’t reject “a citizen-oriented revision”; these lawyers thought they could write better and shorter than Schriver, whose team couldn’t figure out how to convince them otherwise.

This case study shows that although we were quite skilled in redesigning the documents and in negotiating with the team members we worked with, [if we do say so ourselves,] we were unable to gain support for our activities within a powerful segment of the larger organizational culture. Information designers can draw a lesson from this case.

Yeah, by not being total fuckups who can’t talk to lawyers.

Can you imagine getting a contract to redesign a city form, then never bothering to meet the client? Later, when confronted with objections, can you imagine not being able to talk your way out of them? Then can you further imagine publishing an article in a book that essentially blamed the other side for not making time to see you and being grievously insensitive to your “citizen-oriented revision”?

Have you ever blown a client meeting this badly? How could you have?

Now: Who is this Karen Schriver? The end of the chapter includes a 339-word bio that is basically full of shit. I can’t find any online presence for this design luminary, which suggests she either died or closed up shop.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2016.02.23 16:15. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

Values you enter are stored and may be published.


Search for very early blog entries, and for anything else on



Other reading

Popular topics

Photographs to look atTypography; graphic design; the death of design criticismLeslievilleTTCCanadian EnglishAccessibility

Archives by date

Just add /year/month/day/ to the end of site’s URL, You can add just /year/month/, or just /year/, if you wish. Years are four-digit, month and day two-digit (with padding zero below 10). For example:

Very old archives are still available.

Archives by category

Copyright © 2004–2017

You enjoy