Beginner's Guide

Beginner's guide: design thinking and legal design (part 2)

In this guide, we introduce the principles of design thinking and how to apply them in the context of the legal world
min. reading time

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a user-centered approach aimed at creating innovative solutions to everyday problems. The process typically consists of five phases: empathy, problem definition, idea development, prototyping and testing.

Why is design thinking important?
Design thinking encourages us to challenge assumptions, question the status quo and explore new possibilities. This creative process challenges us to think out-of-the-box and embrace uncertainty. It reminds us that the best solutions often come from unexpected places.

The consequences of ignoring design thinking

While it is possible to have used design thinking unconsciously, there can be unintended consequences when it is not applied intentionally. Ford, for example, had to recall several cars because of a design flaw. The transmission buttons, including the engine on/off button, were placed next to the multimedia player. This caused users to accidentally turn off the engine while driving.

Interior design of Ford's Lincoln SUV model with bad design(2013 Jim Photography)
Ford's Lincoln SUV models are recalled because of design problems.

How design thinking could have helped

If the designers had empathized with the users and defined their actual needs, this problem could have been avoided. Design thinking emphasizes the importance of understanding users and their problems in order to create effective solutions.

The bigger picture
Design thinking is not about aesthetics; it is about creating products or services that are usable, accessible, affordable and enjoyable. The user is at the center of every stage of the process.

The five phases of design thinking

Although design thinking can be outlined in five distinct phases, the process is not strictly linear. Refining results and revisiting earlier phases are common and even to be expected.

Design thinking process phases; empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

1. Empathy

Understand your customers, users or stakeholders by walking in their shoes. Listen to their stories, observe their behavior and have conversations to understand their needs, desires and pain points.

Example: Use empathy maps to analyze what users say, think, do and feel. More information on empathy maps can be found here.

2. Define

Define your users' problems and needs. In this phase, all the information from the empathy phase is organized and analyzed to identify the core problem. Asking the right questions is critical to identifying the key problem. This phase is not about the solution, but only about the users' problems and requirements.

Example: Create personas with different problems and needs to keep the analysis human-centered.

3. Developing ideas

Challenge assumptions and create ideas. This is the time when creativity can run wild, but always keep in mind the users' needs and problems. Look for alternative perspectives on the problem and identify innovative solutions to the problem you defined in earlier phases.


- brainstorming techniques
- sketches to visualize your ideas and bring them to life

4. Prototype

Start creating solutions. It is important to gather feedback from users as early as possible. Building quick and inexpensive prototypes is an excellent way to test your ideas in the real world. Think of mock-ups, storyboards, digital prototypes, physical (scale) models or whatever you need to simulate the user experience.

Example: This could be paper prototyping, for example.

5. Test

Test your solutions. This phase involves gathering feedback by having users experiment with the prototype. With this new information, it is important to revise the design and find new ways to solve the problem. This can lead to an updated prototype or a redefinition of the core problems. Keep iterating until testing is completed to the satisfaction of the users.

Example: Have users touch and feel (but don't explain!) the prototype and see if they understand the controls.

What does design thinking have to do with legal design?

An illustration of a legal person sitting on a chair, boring on the left side, and a legal person who drafts informative visuals on the right side.

Legal design is the application of design thinking in the legal world. It is about how legal information is communicated, legal services are delivered and legal processes are experienced by users. These users may be professionals, but often they are ordinary people who must navigate the complex world of legal processes.

Legal design is about redesigning complex legal matters through simple, understandable and usable solutions. It puts the end user first and strives to make legal services and products more accessible, understandable and in line with users' needs.

Examples of legal design:

1. Rewriting and shaping legal documents, such as contracts and general terms and conditions, so that they are understandable and accessible to a wider audience.

2. Developing user-friendly legal technology, such as online legal services, apps or platforms, that are intuitive and easy to use.

3. Improving legal processes, such as dispute resolution or negotiation, by improving the experience of those involved and enabling more effective communication.

The legal world is a traditional system and is based on the assumption that everyone wants or can read legal documents. It is easy to define the problem of users who are not lawyers, because these legal processes can be overwhelming, intimidating, and make people feel lost. But the user could also be a judge who lacks super specific technical knowledge. Or the user might be the lawyer who has to keep everyone on their toes for two hours of pleading. So the early stages of design thinking can help formulate the right parameters of the proposed solution.

In the next phase(s) of legal design thinking, it is time to think of the possible solutions. This can be achieved by making information digestible using visuals, infographics and plain language that everyone can understand. It can also involve designing intuitive and efficient processes for everyone.

In summary, legal design is not about designing beautiful documents. Design thinking in legal design goes beyond aesthetics. Legal design involves constant experimentation, repetition and refinement of solutions based on feedback and real-world testing. It is about embracing failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Legal design promotes collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches, bringing together lawyers, designers, technologists and other stakeholders to create innovative solutions together.

Learn more about Design Thinking

Design consultancy IDEO's design kit:

Design Thinking pioneer Tim Brown's blog:

To gain a deeper understanding of design thinking, there are some insightful courses you can enroll in:

In conclusion, Dan Norman's 21st Century Design Course is highly recommended for those looking to expand their horizons.

About the author
Bilgehan Arifoglu
Bilgehan Arifoglu
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