Strategic design for '7-2-10 Transition Guide' helps students navigate next steps

Case Study by Sarah Lennox RGD, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board


This project was initiated by the Secondary Education team at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) where I work as an in-house Graphic Designer. The goal was to bring all 'Pathways' information and Ministry initiatives into one document that would incorporate all relevant branding.


A Pathways night is an information event for students and parents. At the event, students discuss options for their schooling possibilities with educators and receive additional resources (hand-outs) to take home and look over in more detail. The goal of the Pathways event is to educate students about the options that are available to them in Secondary Education and help them make informed decisions about their own next steps.


HWDSB is school board of 49,167 students and 5,134 staff members. The corporate communications team consists of a manager, two communications officers, myself (graphic designer) and a webmaster. The timeline for this project was tight, as the school board needed the materials in-hand and printed before a Pathways night for secondary students, leaving two weeks to complete the design and two weeks for printing. The target audience included students and their parents, who would be helping them make decisions about their future paths to Apprenticeship, College, University, Workplace or Community. The budget was $10,000 for 25,000 booklets.


The communications team collected information from existing resources including printed booklets and new information from the Ministry of Education and OYAP. This information was organized and rewritten to allow for easy consumption by the target audience of students. As a document being created for a public organization, it was also necessary to create an accessible online version, which involved adding the text to a web page and creating a PDF which included bookmarks and tags as well as alternative text for all of the images. 


The school board was very involved in the decision-making process for the concept and content of the booklet. They were the content expert and we collaborated well throughout the project. After content was provided, a Communications Officer edited it, then it was sent to me for design.


The next step was to bring in all the logos from the relevant brands and look at them side-by-side to figure out how they could all be incorporated into the booklet. Of the three colour schemes and booklet logos presented, the chosen concept was “My Path. My Way” in a word cloud, representing the idea that students would decide their future path after high school. The decision was made to incorporate the three colours from the OYAP brand, SHSM brand and COOP brand (blue, purple and burgundy).

To finish the publication, I incorporated the content provided by the communications team with the new branding and titled the booklet “7-2-10” since it relates to students from grade 7 to grade 10. Visual appeal was added through the use of stock photography of students and various fonts to represent students' handwritten notes. Selecting stock photos that would represent the relevant age groups and ethnic groups of the target audience was a key consideration in this process. The use of imagery was helpful for illustrating content that would otherwise have been extremely text-heavy. Charts and graphics clarify relevant information to help students select courses and understand course requirements. 



The first challenge I encountered was the amount of edits to the content that were required after the design had been implemented. Small text edits here and there do not typically require changes to the design, but the required edits for this project proved very challenging, as they altered the flow of the text. In this case it meant a complete redesign. Since this project, we have implemented a new process for submitting final content prior to giving the project over to design.


Another challenge was the cost. I obtained quotes to print 25,000 booklets, but the cost turned out to be dramatically higher than the budget for the project. It was decided to make the size of the booklet smaller in order to cut costs, which also dramatically affected the size of the font and the overall design of the booklet. In the end, a few pages were added to keep the font accessible for print.


Feedback from parents and students showed the booklet to be a success; they really enjoyed having all of the relevant content available in a single document. Exit postcards were distributed at the event requesting feedback from students about the event and the related publications, which showed mostly positive results. There was some feedback about the booklet looking too expensive, which I will take into consideration next time we do a print run. For this publicly-funded school board, the illusion of cost can sometimes be a tricky thing to navigate.


Exit survey results: 

The creation of this booklet meant that multiple publications could be consolidated into a single document, which saved costs on printing. It also brought the board’s strategy of engagement into practice and provided information to the community in a cohesive package.



Designer Takeaways

  1. This might seem like a basic one, but I need to be reminded from time to time: Always get quotes for print materials before your start the design work. This will allow you to make sure the design and paper stock choices match the client's budget.
  2. Allow more time for editing before incorporating content into design, especially when the client is working under a committee. Communicate clearly with the client to make sure content is final before starting the design.
  3. Design for accessibility for every project. No matter the client or the size of the organization.


Client Takeaways

  1. Finalize your content prior to sending it to the designer. Make sure that everyone who needs to see it, sees it and makes their edits.
  2. Give yourself enough time to complete projects properly. Don’t rush to get something designed, when jumping the gun could end up making more work.
  3. Find a designer who knows about accessibility.