Information Design: Explainers

Information Design: Explainers

We are talking about information design as a way to improve contract drafting, understanding, and transparency. One of the most common issues that my clients face when dealing with their customers is that the customers don’t understand some concepts that are important in the business relationship.

I’m a big believer in keeping things simple. For that reason, I tend to choose language in a written document that is designed to address the audience who is going to be doing the reading. If my clients tell me that their customers are college educated English speakers but don’t fully understand the industry, then I would adjust some of the wording accordingly. I would be conscious of using clear language, good style, good grammar, and shorter sentences to foster a better understanding.

But, sometimes there are things that are difficult to express in words, or the concepts themselves are particularly complex. It is often helpful to design an informative presentation that would allow people to understand a bit better. When the concepts are complicated or difficult to explain in words, an information design tool called an Explainer can come in handy. We can think of Explainers as a series of building blocks. We are going to tell your customers some basic information, and then build upon that information one step at a time. The best Explainers provide a strong foundation of concepts or knowledge. The foundation provides the base level of understanding that allow for new concepts to be created or combined all while making sure the complicated ideas are understood.

Although not usually thought of as an “Explainer,” a commonly used explainer is a definition section, where the definition of important terms is stated. I am a big fan of a well-written definitions section in a contract. But, the definitions section needs to be visible and detachable from the contract. When I am reading longer contracts, the document will start with a long list of definitions in Section 1. The effect of a long list of definition is mind-numbing and often skipped. There is no context for those definitions even if they good. Definitions are often presented in alphabetical order with no concept or indicator as to the relative importance. But what if the contract presented the definitions section as an exhibit at the end. Then one of the first statements you make in the contract is that the reader is cautioned to use the definitions section attached as Exhibit A to have as a reference and ensure understanding. This way it is still a part of the contract, but in a way that is easier to read and understand.

But Explainers do not need to be just words. Often times presenting complex concepts without words as your primary tool can be really helpful. Many Explainers discuss a process. In that case, a flow chart could be helpful. Maybe you need to provide your customers with specific instructions for a process. Rather than burying all of that information in a large paragraph, maybe you could break it down step by step and make it easier to digest visually, like a checklist. In doing so, the customer will be more likely to understand what they are supposed to do, while also having a clear understanding of what your role as the vendor is.

An explainer can be a helpful roadmap for your customers to understand processes, procedures, and requirements without diving into legal terminology. It cleans up the moving parts.

These are some of the ways that you can provide context, information, or explanation for complex concepts, concepts that are not easily stated with words, or to provide the reader of the contract with a bit of a roadmap to see what is going on. Explainers should not simply be a wall of words – they should be something that simplifies something for a customer.