"A client needs to have a lot of regulatory content on their site. Hundreds of pages, not to mention the accompanying PDFs... It seems that the point is to post the content because it's required, but no one reads it..."
The major challenge of regulatory content is that it's just so ... intrinsically boring.
That said - it's helpful to recognize how it's likely to be used.
Referential & Self-serviced
This challenge focuses on those situations when regulation defines compliance. We want to be protected ... but also unencumbered - and that's a huge challenge for usability design.
A big part of the solution lies in making the regulatory content itself accessible. Hopefully, the movement towards "plain language" (as embodied in the Plain Writing Act of 2010) will help. But this POST focuses on the logistics of getting you to the information, rather than the styling of the content itself.
Towards that end, Here's how such info actually gets used.
- You want it when you need it. But only then.
- It's an "alternate path" to your main task
- As such, it's a short loop
- Small incremental chunks (nobody sets out to "read the regulations manual")
Taxonomy (keyword tagging) will sweeten the deal. But I wonder how effectively the tags - esp. if rendered by a word-search bot - reflect actual usage.
Talk with Knowledgeable SME (subject matter expert), Call Center, or Document Librarian. They can provide the useful insights about which docs people really use for particular tasks.
The tag categories will certainly aid self-service from a central search page (somewhat), but IMO It's far more effective to identify the most-used docs for the most-used tasks and present access to them in the context of that specific task flow (i.e. in the sidebar, or as part of a checklist). Remember, the Regulation Docs are only a referential side-note. If they become a journey unto themselves ... then they become unnecessarily burdensome.
Finally: PDF's suck and I hate 'em. Convert to all PDF's to HTML and allow their content to flow seamlessly in the workflow, as it should.
The Information Architect needs to collaborate with a User eXperience Practitioner or a Business Analyst in order to provide "traction to action". The challenge is to make the gawdawful-boring-but-necessary RegulationDocs accessible and usable in the context of your target audience and the tasks that they are trying to accomplish.
In practical terms ...Almost every site or service has some type of "regulatory docs" or collateral.
The first thing we do ... let's kill all the lawyers. (Kudos to Bill Shakespeare)