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Still no response to the consultation on small print

6 July, 2017 at 9:07 am, by

It’s over a year since we submitted a response to the consultation on consumer Terms and Conditions (T & Cs). See the blog post below:

I recently prodded the (renamed) Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and they have replied saying: ‘The Government is committed to making T & Cs more transparent and accessible for consumers. We are still considering the responses and the Government will in due course publish its response to the consultation.’

We’ll continue to keep out eye on this, and we will be running some more Simple Action days soon to work on innovative formats for T & Cs. 

Simple Action 4: the small print

ASA condemn speeded up legal terms in radio ads

29 June, 2017 at 8:26 am, by

If you ever wondered what the point is of the garbled ‘small print’ at the end of radio ads, it’s now official – there is no point to it at all. At least, that is one interpretation of a recent ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in response to a complaint against the broadband provider Plusnet. 

Referring to the content of the spoken small print, the ASA said:

“We considered those conditions were material information that consumers required in order to make an informed decision, and therefore must be presented to listeners in a clear and intelligible manner. We noted that the terms and conditions that followed the statement “Plusnet, we’ll do you proud” in both ads (a) and (b) were spoken at a much faster pace compared to the rest of the ad. We considered that the words were difficult to make out and that they had been delivered too quickly to be understood by listeners. Because those conditions had not been presented in a clear and intelligible manner, we concluded that the ad was misleading.”

So if the information is not relevant to the consumer decision, it is pointless to say it at all. And if it is relevant, it is pointless to speed it up because your ad will be banned.

Plusnet have had to withdraw the ads. Interestingly, the ASA ruling was in response to just one complaint. So it’s worth having a go at other advertisers. 

Summer school now fully booked

23 June, 2017 at 4:52 pm, by

This year the summer school booking was slow to get going, but now we’re fully booked, with the usual interesting mix of people with different interests and backgrounds. We’re really looking forward to it, as always – get in touch if you’d like to ask about 2018… it will almost certainly be in the same place and time (3-7 September 2018).

Simple Action day on overdose emergency kits: report published

13 June, 2017 at 2:37 pm, by

We’ve just published the report from our latest Simple Action day on instructions for overdose emergency kits. See this earlier blog post for the background. We had a great day critiquing one of the emergency kits available in the UK, and developing ideas. 

The day was organised by Stephanie VandenBerg and Rob Waller, and other people taking part were Daniel Alford, John Alexander, David Dickinson, Tomoko Furukawa, Pat Kahn, Sol Kawage, Shannon Lattin, Suki Law, Eleanor Smith, Conrad Taylor, and Dhanika Vansia. We were also grateful for expert advice from Martin McCusker, a member of the Lambeth Service User Council and the International Network of People Who Use Drugs.

A version of this report will be published in a special issue of Information Design Journal later in the year.

The Oxford comma in the news

17 March, 2017 at 11:32 am, by

The Oxford comma, or serial comma, is a comma inserted in a list before the final ‘and’ or ‘or’:

‘Apples, oranges, bananas, and pears’ has a serial comma. ‘Apples, oranges, bananas and pears’ does not.

It can seem like one of those punctuation pedantries which does not matter in real life, but it’s recently appeared in a court case in the USA. There’s a law in Maine which states that if work connected with perishable food takes extra time, overtime is not payable. Presumably this is because the work cannot be delayed until the next day and employers need certainty over costs.

A dairy has been successfully sued by its drivers because of the lack of a serial comma in the following statement. The exemption to the overtime rules, according to the Maine law, applies to: 


The intention appears to have been that ‘shipment or distribution’ represented two items in the list: that is ‘packing for shipment’ and ‘distribution’ are separate activities and both are ineligible for overtime payments.

The drivers contended, though, that it was a single item ‘packing for shipment or distribution’, and therefore that it was ‘packing’ that was exempt from overtime, not distribution (which is what drivers do).

The appeal court agreed with the drivers and you can read the judgement here:

The story was covered in the Guardian and other newspapers. And there’s a nice commentary here  from David Marsh, giving both sides of the argument and some classic examples.

What’s not clear to me is how long this law has been operation, and what the practice has actually been up to now – has overtime never been paid, but a clever lawyer has spotted the absence of a comma? Or is this a new thing and the drivers genuinely thought their understanding was shared by the drafters of the statute?

The problem with punctuation (and why, it is sometimes suggested, lawyers traditionally don’t like it) is that an awful lot hangs on a small smudge on the page.

So how about a more graphic solution. This is what the drivers thought it meant:

This is what the employers thought:

Another argument for visualisation in legal drafting.