An excerpt from a discussion of the research that appeared in my book Dynamics in Document Design (1997, pp. 167–168). The book was directed toward an audience of professionals, teachers, and researchers.
“JUST SAY NO TO DRUGS” AND OTHER
UNWELCOME ADVICE: TEENS SPEAK OUT
Recently my colleagues and I21 studied a context in which good writing and visual design have the potential to make an important difference: the design of drug education literature. We were concerned with how teenage audiences interpret brochures intended to discourage them from taking drugs, and more broadly with how readers may respond to the visual and verbal messages presented through brochures that aim to inform and persuade. We felt that the area of drug education literature would provide a challenging rhetorical situation to study because it is a context in which the audience's knowledge and values may stand in stark contrast to those of professionals employed to write and visualize the documents. Professionals who design drug education literature typically differ from their audiences in age, in point of view, in experience with drugs, in education, and sometimes in race, culture, and social class. Designing documents that communicate across these social and cultural boundaries is complex because professionals may have difficulty in anticipating how someone who may be quite unlike themselves will interpret their ideas.
Furthermore, even when professionals are good at “getting on a level” with their readers, the organization sponsoring the document may constrain the “voice” document designers can create by controlling (and in the worst cases, censoring) what may be said or illustrated.22 This study showed us how critical it is to consider the possible interactions and conflicts among the values of the document designer, the organization, the gatekeepers, and the intended audience. It also made us aware of how important it is to learn about what audiences believe and value by listening to them as they interpret documents.Where Our Research Team Started
We began by collecting over 100 brochures and handouts from national and local drug prevention agencies.23 Many of these materials were funded by U. S. taxpayer dollars or through grants to nonprofit organizations during the Reagan administration.