If you have something to hide, design badly and write poorly. Set the text in small type, no leading and wide measure, and use mind-numbingly dull legal language. This approach all but screams, “We don’t want you to read this, but we are required by law to tell you.”
Whether intentional or not, this is the impression given by credit card issuers when disclosing fees and terms. Cardholders who don’t immediately throw out these “envelope stuffers” are often stunned to read about a plethora of penalties, hidden fees and compounded interest. What’s more, the majority of card issuers also claim the right to increase APR or change credit terms “at any time for any reason.”
With American consumer credit card debt now hovering around a trillion dollars, the U.S. Congress passed the Credit Card Act of 2009 in May, demanding that card is suers make sure they tell consumers what they are agreeing to in plain and simple English. What it did not demand, however, is that issuers communicate with greater graphic transparency.
Design for Democracy, an initiative of the American Institute of Graphic Art (AIGA), dedicated to showing how design can be used in the interest of civic needs, undertook a project to demonstrate how design can bring order and clarity to credit card disclosure statements. An ad hoc design team, led by David Gibson, Carla Hall and Sylvia Harris, for Design for Democracy took its inspiration from the Nutrition Facts table that appears on all packaged food products. Through layout and typographic styling, the Nutrition Facts manages to present a huge volume of information in a succinct and easy-to-understand graphic manner. The team applied this approach to credit card facts, creating a chart that quickly disclosed essential information about terms and fees that every cardholder should know. Proposed in a New York Times Op-Ed article (May 24, 2009), the Credit Card Facts is an option that needs to be taken seriously. After all, good writing cannot compensate for bad design.