Thursday, July 14, 2011

I have read and understood...

At the Simplification Centre we're looking at fresh ways to approach the small print - the contracts we sign when we install software, get a mobile phone, borrow money. I was speculating that if we sincerely want people to understand these things, wouldn't we apply best practice from textbooks - a genre where people genuinely have to and want to understand the content. In a textbook we expect summaries, explanations, definitions, diagrams... and even aims and objectives, and self-test questions. We expect legible type, plenty of white space, and pictures to relieve the tedium. A photo and short biog of the author on the back, too, of course.

Jenny then suggested going one further: if we are really sincere about communicating contract conditions, people should sit an exam before they can sign.

Of course the opposite could equally be true. Instead of sitting an exam at the end of their university course, students could simply sign a declaration: 'I have read and understood this course'. Thank you ma'am: here's your car keys/loan/degree certificate.