Clearer Legal Information was a half-day conference organized by the Simplification Centre in partnership with the Information Design Association and Clarity. 83 people came together at the St Bride Foundation, London, to discuss the usability and visual design of legal information, in legislation and business contracts.
More and more people are starting to believe that legal information has to be easy to understand as well as correct. Now that legislation is accessible online, citizens expect to be able to understand their rights and obligations. And in the world of contracts, the primary audience is increasingly seen as the parties who need to work together, rather than the court they might resort to, should they end up in dispute.
Many lawyers have long recognised the role of plain English, but this event reported on developments that go further, using visualisation and design thinking to make legal documents and websites more usable and comprehensible.
You can download the Clearer Information Design programme here, with speaker profiles.
Legislation is information that has a status and authority and is complex. Good design should reveal the underlying structure for those using it. But does it? How can we shape content for all users, and what are the distinctive differences that government needs to balance? Users arrive online with lots of assumptions, so how can design help us to manage their expectations?
Hayley Rogers, Office of the Parliamentary Counsel
Law is not “bad” – but it can be confusing and intimidating. Law is no longer just the preserve of lawyers – parliamentarians, taxpayers, teachers etc all need to understand it. Good law can help them do so. But how do we get good law? We are focusing on quality of legislation – its content, language and style – and the user experience – the architecture of the overall statute book and accessibility of law. As a drafter I am concerned with language – but also structure and layout. What is most helpful for users? Legislative drafting has changed over the past 200 years, and even over the past 20. Has the layout of Bills and Acts kept pace? What more could be done?
Rob Waller, Simplification Centre
Legal information presents an unusual challenge to the designer, whether in the form of legislation, business contracts or consumer agreements. There is often a considerable gap between the typical length, complexity and difficulty of the text, and the willingness and ability of the reader to engage with it. In the case of other communication genres, for example, newspapers, textbooks, or user guides, the text can be edited and designed to meet the readers’ needs. But traditional legal text has the primary purpose of codifying legal relationships, contingencies, rights and responsibilities, and removing potential doubt. Information designers are restrained by their clients from changing text because it is statutory, or has been written by their legal department, or because counsel’s opinion has been sought.
For centuries, the comprehension gap between ‘sacred’ text and lay readers has been managed through the layering of alternative versions. This talk reviews some layered design patterns that support strategic reading and comprehension by different audiences.
Stefania Passera, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland
Commercial contracts are complex and their meaning is not always clear to those who are impacted. Major contract risks are caused by the gaps when information and responsibility are transferred from one team to the other. What can we do to provide better usability and to prevent inadvertent non-compliance and negative surprises? Here, visualisation enters the picture.
In order for contract designers to capture business objectives and for contracts to transmit obligations to the implementation team, cross-professional communication must succeed. Management involvement is crucial, yet it is not always easy to engage busy business people. When working together in a research program, we felt the need to enhance the user experience and usability of contracts. We explored ways to introduce user-centered design into the field of contract design and to merge a proactive approach with design thinking, especially information design and visualization.
This session demonstrates how new design methods and tools can enable managers and lawyers to better understand and address current business needs and learn from past mistakes. Our examples include, for instance, prototypes of visualized contract clauses and a visual user guide to the General Terms of Public Procurement of Services in Finland.
Tobias Mahler, Norwegian Research Center for Computers and Law
Computers increasingly employ graphical user-interfaces, such as icons on the screen of a tablet. By comparison, the user interface for legal code has remained relatively constant in its focus on “black letter law”. Traditionally, the legal profession only uses only a rudimentary graphical language in traffic signs and other iconography, intended for rapid communication of normative expressions like “no smoking”. Otherwise, most sources of legal norms are predominantly defined and communicated textually, despite the limitations of textual communication. Who has the time and resources to read, comprehend and evaluate the 60-page updated end-user license some phone manufacturers regularly require their customers to accept? Would it perhaps be possible and useful to have an additional graphical user-interface, on top of the legal text? Ideally, such an interface could be used to quickly communicate the meaning of key elements of legal code. In addition, graphical icons might even be useful when putting together a legal text, such as a contract, based on standard building blocks. It is unknown whether the development of a graphical user-interface for legal texts would be viable, but we will never find out unless we give it a try. This presentation offers some initial ideas, combining visual elements with formal approaches from research in artificial intelligence and law.
Olivia Zarcate, Imagidroit, Law + Visual Thinking, Paris
Tim Cummins, President and CEO, International Association for Contract and Commercial Management
Daphne Perry, Clarify Now