Karen A Schriver
Director, Global Listening Centre.
President KSA Com Design & Research, Inc.
Dr. Karen Schriver is a passionate advocate for people-centered communications—a field in which listening is central. Schriver received her doctoral degree in Rhetoric and Document Design from Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA, USA). Her thesis, “Teaching writers to anticipate readers’ needs: Empirically-based instruction,” focused on teaching professional writers to listen to the feedback of their readers. The goal: to revise based on listening to peoples’ problems with poorly written or badly visualized technical communications. For that work, Schriver won a national award for the best dissertation in English studies in the United States. Schriver went on to join the faculty in rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University, where she co-directed the Master of Arts degree in Professional Writing and coordinated the Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Document Design. She also served as research director of the Communications Design Center, a nonprofit that won the prestigious Diana Award for its landmark research on plain-language public documents.
After a decade as a faculty member, Schriver founded KSA Communication Design & Research, a consultancy that helps organizations design clear and compelling communications. She finds that many excellent organizations inadvertently write and design for themselves. Organizations tend to neglect listening carefully to what people want and need—leading to organization-centric communications that fail to hit the mark. Schriver helps her clients over come the “curse of knowledge” and design communications that customers value and appreciate. She draws on the latest empirical research on writing, visual design, plain language, cognitive science, and decision making. She guides her clients to design better websites, instructions, forms, reports, health information, educational materials, and marketing communications.
Now celebrating over 25 years in business, Schriver is known for crossing academic and corporate boundaries—encouraging scholars to value the insights of business, and business to value the research of academics. Schriver’s clients include Apple, IBM, Tivoli, Mitsubishi, New York City Department of Transportation, IRS, ATT, Sprint, Lutron, Rice University, Hoffman-LaRoche, Microsoft, Sony, and Fujitsu. She has taught at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Utrecht (Netherlands), the University of Washington (Seattle, Washington, USA), the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa), and the University of Gothenburg (Sweden).
Her book, Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Texts for Readers—in its 9th printing—has been called a “classic on writing and visual design.” Winner of thirteen national and international awards for her research, Schriver has made a significant impact on how information designers around the world think about their work.
She recently published a history of plain language in the United States, looking at the past 75 years of its evolution. One of the striking things we learn from plain language history is that government and industry have been rather poor in listening to the needs of citizens and consumers. For example, they have not been very responsive in providing people with clear and usable information about taxes, bank loans, credit cards, or health insurance. Professionals in plain language and information design believe it is essential to listen to citizens and consumers. Schriver is currently writing a new book on evidence-based information design and plain language.