Case Study by Lionel Gadoury RGD, Principal at Context Creative
To help Indigenous people reach their financial goals, Prosper Canada and AFOA Canada teamed up with Context Creative to develop a socially innovative workbook that would inform, enable and inspire.
One of the keys to successful self-determination and a better future for Indigenous communities lies in improving financial literacy skills of individuals and their families. National charity Prosper Canada and not-for-profit AFOA Canada worked together to create a 34-panel workbook designed to reflect Indigenous culture with the help of Context Creative.
Founded in 1986, Prosper Canada is a national charity dedicated to expanding economic opportunities for financially vulnerable Canadians. AFOA Canada (formerly Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada) was founded in 1999 to help Indigenous communities enhance finance and management practices and skills. Context Creative has a long-standing relationship with Prosper Canada, having worked together on numerous reports including handouts and infographics, among other projects.
To support Indigenous community organizations to deliver financial literacy workshops and one-on-one money conversations, Prosper Canada and AFOA Canada wanted to develop an easy-to-use workbook complete with budgeting worksheets, planning calendars and tax prep checklists. Financial topics in the book are paired with a teaching from the animal world, illustrated by an Indigenous artist.
Cultural factors play an important role in individuals’ underlying beliefs and emotions around money. By interweaving traditional animal associations with financial topics, the workbook was designed to be an effective and culturally sensitive resource.
A unique challenge from the outset was achieving cultural relevance with design sensitivity. Not recognizing the diversity of Indigenous communities is one of the most common mistakes non-Indigenous people make when engaging with Indigenous groups. There is a misconception that Indigenous Peoples are one homogenous group or sufficiently alike that knowledge of one group applies to another. In fact, each Nation has a unique creation story, spirituality and worldview and distinct values, customs, histories and traditions.
As Thomas King writes in The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, “Anishinaabe, Métis, Coastal Salish, Cree, Cherokee. We have nothing much in common. We’re all aboriginal and we have the drum. That’s about it.”
To be successful, the workbook needed to clearly communicate a nuanced understanding of Indigenous culture, while respectfully recognizing their separate identities. To help ensure the workbook was culturally sensitive, Prosper Canada and AFOA Canada introduced us to the multi-disciplinary Anishinaabe artist, Simon Brascoupé and graphic illustrator Mairi Brascoupé, who both collaborated on the content outline, text and illustrations. Together, our aim was to integrate storytelling elements that could be appreciated and related to on a universal level, across all communities.
As with any design project we partner on, client, user and audience engagement are core aspects of our process. Every project is a knowledge exchange. Developing a close working relationship, building trust and enabling meaningful opportunities for all parties to participate and influence decision-making is key. Working closely with Simon enabled us to incorporate the wisdom and insights he had to share, guiding our integration of custom illustrations, colours and metaphorical messages.
Another challenge was to make the finished workbook as economical as possible. Pages needed to be easily reproducible on a local, as-needed basis for wide distribution. With this in mind, budget discussions were done up front with the artist and the graphic illustrator. A process was mapped out from the beginning to ensure we could move forward effectively and efficiently without sacrificing important discussion and feedback points.
Final production (printing, finishing, binding) was managed separately and the preferred format was confirmed at the outset (5.5 x 8.5 mechanical binding with fold outs appropriate to the workshop needs). In projects where the final production is not managed separately, the process would also include the creation of mockups to explore options and help reduce unknown variables. Even without the final content, knowing the anticipated number of sections, the lengths of each section and the content of the worksheets was important for streamlining the layout and ensuring the final deliverable would work with the planned page count.
We worked to ensure that our recommendations were appropriate for the requested format and throughout the layout process we flagged any concerns and provided options to accommodate page content, count, pagination, etc.
There are practical limitations in terms of the number of animals that could be included and also the stories of the animals themselves are rich with multiple possible interpretations. They also cannot fully reflect the diversity of traditions of all Indigenous groups. This is a reality that must be acknowledged. At the end of the day, the workbook is a project of limited scale, completed within a set budget and timeframe that must suit the functional needs of users/workshop participants. The workshop booklet is not a one-size fits all solution. It's one of many steps that must continue to be taken to create resources that are mindful, respectful and useful.
These issues were discussed up front with the client and the artist who also provided helpful insights and consultation based on his work through AFOA and his own experience. For this reason, it was important to include information on the intent and context of the collaboration and information on the animals illustrated.
We continue to work with Prosper Canada on developing additional supplementary materials, such as presentation templates. These emphasized the importance of consultation and collaboration, particularly with appropriate usage of the artwork.
Approach & Layout
The process was a highly collaborative effort between Context Creative and the client, artist and graphic illustrator. Prior to contacting the artist and graphic illustrator, we proposed and discussed the overall approach that we were recommending with our client. We then developed wireframe layouts in order to help establish and communicate the general concept to the artist and introductions were made.
Collaboration with Artist
The artist shared his knowledge and made recommendations and we discussed potential associations to ensure alignment with program content and worksheets. The guidance, cultural insights and expertise of the artist were key to ensuring that ideas in the draft manuscript were aligned appropriately to the traits and associations of animals and teachings. As we progressed into full design layouts of the content, we integrated sketches from the artist with the text that was provided to us. Draft layouts were shared as PDFs ad comments from the team informed adjustments and iterative refinements. Throughout the iterative development process we were attentive to the needs of the end-users and workshop participants, working to ensure that the end product was useful and usable.
Upon approval, we provided the draft layout to the graphic illustrator with sketches in place. The illustrator then transformed the sketches into final illustrations. We subsequently provided a final draft layout with the illustrations in place, still allowing for discussion and tweaks to placement, colours and text, prior to final approvals.
Additional illustrative accents throughout the book (footprints, plants, nature/natural elements, etc.) expand on the workbook’s theme of a financial wellness journey.
Strong project management is vital to ensure clear, open and effective communication between client, designers, artists, writers and editors. Goals, recommendations and decisions need to be clearly documented, summarized and agreed upon at each step to ensure nothing crucial is missed and everyone is working with the same vision in mind. In-person meetings were not always possible, so conference calls with a shared screen were highly valuable to review iterations and gain insights.
The project was timed over several months to coincide with the launch of community workshops. Initial project kickoff, planning and concepts presentation with rough sketches took place in the spring. Full layout with final artwork was provided in late summer, enabling production and distribution of the workbook in advance of workshop programming.
With regards to the collaborative process and design approach, feedback from Prosper Canada, AFOA Canada and from Simon and Mairi was enthusiastic and warmly appreciative throughout. The resulting workbook was equally well received by workshop instructors and participants and Context Creative continues to create templates for additional presentation materials and work with Prosper Canada to develop further educational materials and other workbooks.
Additionally, this project provided client staff, instructors and our creative team with a valuable opportunity to benefit from and share in the knowledge of Indigenous traditions, culture and experiences.
“Context Creative can always be counted on to deliver a quality design product that hits the mark every time.” – Julie McFayden, Senior Marketing and Communications Manager, Prosper Canada
- Communications is an exchange of information and design is a dynamic process. Working directly with community members is vital to gather insights that inform and guide cultural aspects, raise understanding and build consensus. Strive to keep things simple so that everyone knows the goals and their role.
- Asking for introductions to community artists and integrating their input builds authenticity and ownership. Be open to ideas but stay focused and targeted on doing the right thing, not everything.
- Everyone involved on the project is a communicator and fundamental to acceptance. A participatory approach to design helps ensure that results meet the needs and preferences of all stakeholders.
For a useful guide for designing across cultural boundaries, see this article from The International Journal of Visual Design.