Sunday, June 01, 2008

Comics for Consumer Communication

Using comics to communicate ...

"The rising popularity of the comic as an internal communication device for designers has increased our ability to engage our stakeholders as we build interfaces. Yet, social service agencies looking to provide services to hard-to-reach groups like immigrants, cultural minorities, and the poor have taken pride in innovative outreach methods. In situations where traditional printed matter is a barrier, graphical methods can be used very effectively to communicate with audiences.

From guerilla theatre to testimonials, posters to graphic instructions, users have benefited from alternative communication methods, particularly in situations where education or cultural barriers make it difficult for people to access services important to their well-being and safety. In some cases, the comic book format has been used as a way to help people get access to critical legal help. This case study from my time as a Publication Manager at the Legal Services Society (LSS) of British Columbia (BC) could inspire the use of comics outside the development process.

The Situation

BC has over 253 First Nations tribes (known as “Native Americans” in the United States), which is about one-third of all First Nations in Canada. Seven of Canada’s eleven unique native language families are located exclusively in BC. When BC joined Confederation (Canada) in 1871, the provincial policy of the day did not recognize aboriginal title to the land, so no treaties were signed with the First Nations unlike in other provinces.

Instead, the federal government made it a criminal offence for a First Nation to hire a lawyer to pursue land claims settlements, and removed a generation of children to residential schools, where many were abused and traumatized. As a result, many tribes were left in an ongoing state of economical and social upheaval, with rampant unemployment, social problems, and poverty.

The Legal Services Society (LSS) in BC is the provincial agency that provides legal aid to poor and marginalized residents of the province. Prior to the crippling budget cuts the government imposed in the late 1990s, LSS also provided public legal education material to people who didn’t quite qualify for legal aid but certainly needed it. They may not have been quite poor enough, or they were poor enough, but legal aid didn’t cover their particular problem.

LSS knew that solving some of the smaller problems up front would keep them from escalating into larger problems – problems that would then qualify them for legal aid, but also would be devastating for their lives.

In 1995, the LSS asked its Publishing Program, where I was the manager, to collaborate with them on some self-help material for First Nations women. The Native Services Department wanted to help these women understand their rights in the area of family law, specifically around the issue of spousal violence. Based on the number of women who came to social service agencies for help, LSS recognized that there were a number of issues that were not well understood and, if caught early, could be addressed to prevent larger legal problems.

The agency decided that it was within its mandate to produce a publication for this population segment, and the two departments began the process of creating the publication that would eventually be called Getting Out: Escaping Family Violence.


Why the Comics Format?

LSS produced all publications collaboratively. In this case, the two departments explored different formats, and ultimately chose the comic form. Comics’ graphical format could draw low-literacy women to pick up information off a publication rack. LSS had previously done one other publication in comic book format, which had worked for that audience.

The issue of family violence was a sensitive one, and the LSS had to be sure that the audience would not consider the graphical format of the publication condescending. To take the pulse of those who would use the publication, we conducted several focus groups in places where women would gather for learning (e.g. literacy, friendship, and women’s centers).

We used an approach that combined outreach, usability testing, literacy skills improvement, immigration intake, and legal education. We’d bring food and beverages, humbly ask questions, and be the learners instead of the teachers. Particularly with an all-women’s group, it was important to do something based around food. Participants would often bring their children, and they would ask us questions and giggle over our perspectives.

For this publication, a comic book format seemed to be a natural. The literacy levels in First Nations communities have been cited as being significantly lower than the general population, particularly in rural areas. Conveying the nuances of family law to a low-literacy population segment was one challenge; another was understanding specific cultural references that could be missed or become “localization” barriers.

Considerations similar to those for producing publications in different languages apply to those being translated from “majority culture English” to “minority culture English,” or same-language localization, so to speak. There may not be a language difference, strictly speaking, but significant dialectic differences apply, graphics are very culturally-specific, and emphasis differs between cultures. In this instance, we had to localize our content to make it relevant to our First Nations audience and not concern ourselves about whether the publication resonated with other people sitting in a legal aid waiting room."    (Continued via Boxes and Arrows, Rahel Anne Bailie)    [Usability Resources]

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< Home
.