Bring Consultants in Early and Trust the Process

Bring Consultants in Early and Trust the Process


You have worked for months researching and writing. It is an important project and you want to reach your audience. You’re not sure how to proceed but you have some ideas and you know you need help. Who do you hire and when?

My advice is to hire clear communicators—plain language specialists and information designers—and hire them early. A clear communicator’s job is to work with you to define your goals and develop your messages and then to effectively convey those messages to your target audience.


Case 1: Explaining a complex process

I am an information designer. Recently a clear language colleague and I were hired to help communicate a new process for those who work in our provincial health system. The client initially wanted us to develop a binder containing all the information on the new process. The binder needed to answer all of the questions that might arise about why the process was changing. It also needed to define each practitioner’s role within the process and how that role aligned with all the other roles in the process.

We were given a large pile of documents, each one written by a different working group. And yes, it was a large pile. Daunting to me and I imagine also to the busy health practitioners who were our audience.

Diving in

Our first job was to inform ourselves. We immersed ourselves in the role of “user” and learned from that experience. After many days of reading, we attended several meetings with the working group. This group included people who would be using the material every day. They were a great resource. Within this process we all gained a better understanding about the organization, the material, and the difficulties encountered in understanding the information.

Often it is wise to hire someone who is not an expert in your subject because it gives you an outsider’s viewpoint. A perceptive new learner can give you insight.

Our recommendations

After our research, conversations, and several surveys, we concluded that the final product would be best communicated in an interactive pdf. The interactivity provided a way to present layered information one click at a time, unlike print where you see all of the information at once. Two pdfs covered the introductory information:

  • An Overview document explained the reasons for the change.
  • A Pathway document outlined the actual changes in the process.

From these we also developed pdfs describing individual competencies for each practitioner’s role — counsellors, registered nurse, and licensed practical nurses.

The result

The client was very happy with the end product and consistently exclaimed that they didn’t know pdfs could be so interactive. We moved a long way from the initial binder request but it proved to be a success. The credit for success goes to not only our clear communication process and strategies but also to the client who brought us in early and trusted us to go in the direction that best served their purpose.


Case 2: Rethinking the medium for your message

Another project followed a similar path: the client requested a poster and we developed something else. Text was not written, but the client had an idea about the direction. Once again the shift happened when we considered the audience. The purpose of the information was to inform staff about what to do if they experienced harassment in the workplace, including the reporting process that one needed to follow to solve the problem.

Our view was that anyone experiencing harassment would not stand in a crowded office and read a detailed poster on how to report harassment. We felt that the solution required a private method of communication and suggested a small booklet or pdf that could be printed out or read online. We also suggested developing a poster to alert the audience to the booklet.

Once again the client’s timing and trust enabled us to produce a more useful product. It helped tremendously that the client invited us into the process before the text was finalized, and that they trusted us to question the original assumption about how to reach the target audience.

Clear communicators can help you from the start. Bring them in early and trust them to help you find your solution.

About the Author

Kathy Kaulbach, Touchstone Design, has over 25 years experience as a professional information and graphic designer. She has designed over 200 books reaching a range of audiences from academic to preschool.