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Never "make it pretty."

March 7, 2017 3:00:20 PM CST / by Ricardo Pellafone

Never ask anyone to make your compliance materials “pretty.”

Because you do not want “pretty.” You want “useful.”

They are different.

“Pretty” assumes that what you have created solves your problem in a way that is useful to employees, so all that you really need to do is slap on some graphics or add some white space and you’re good to go.

And that is often wrong.

Because something can solve a substantive problem and still be totally useless, and that is not a problem you fix with aesthetics.

Here’s a visual explanation of that principle.


This computer code lets you type some text into a web browser and see web pages that are relevant to whatever you typed in.

For a developer, it’s pretty easy to see what this is doing. It completely solves the problem of letting anyone search the internet.

But if you're not a developer, is it useful to you?

Probably not.

So let’s look at what would happen if the developer said “make it pretty—I’ve handled the substance, so just make it look nice.”


Mission accomplished! Columns, color, a professional typeface. Much prettier.

Is it any more useful?


It's more attractive, but not more useful.

But what if the developer said “make it useful to someone with no coding knowledge”?

Well, it would look like this.


Because that's the source code for Google's homepage.


So, here’s the thing: too often, your stuff can look like computer code to non-compliance people.

It makes sense to you, and it technically solves the problem, but it's not presented in a way that makes sense to people who don't have your background—so it doesn't work.

And that's not a challenge you can conquer with aesthetics. 

You need to focus on utility: view the problem from your employees’ perspective, and build from there. Your materials will still look nice, but they'll look nice for a reason.

At its simplest, this means you need to translate your compliance standards into the context of how your people do their job duties. (You can see some examples of that here, or read more here.)

Because unless you start from there, it doesn't matter how pretty you make your compliance materials—if they're not useful first, they won't work.


*And yes, people who actually know code, the Google analogy isn't perfect—some of the source code is there to dictate how the page itself will display. But you get the point.

Ricardo Pellafone

Written by

Ricardo Pellafone

Ricardo used to be in-house compliance, leading investigations for a sovereign wealth company in Abu Dhabi and a Fortune 200 tech company in California. He has degrees in psychology and law.