1. What is legal design?
The official definition of legal design is as follows: "Legal design is an innovative approach that combines the principles of law and design to create more user-friendly, accessible and effective legal solutions and legal processes." But it's also about making the law easier to understand and more accessible! Legal design is something like giving the law a makeover, making it simpler and more user-friendly. It's not just for lawyers, but for everyone who deals with the law.
Legal design is about focusing on the end user and making sure their needs are met. That can be another lawyer, a judge, but often for laypeople as well. The law can be confusing, scary and downright unfriendly. But with legal design, there is the opportunity for empathy and understanding. Making legal matters simple and understandable helps everyone.
Legal design can also encourage creativity. By thinking "outside the box" and coming up with fun and innovative ways to make the law more interesting and accessible. You can create endless things with legal design. From crystal clear visuals to interactive tools. A great example is the Maryland Court' App, an application that helps people navigate the courts. It's not just about flashy contracts.
2. Then what is "not" legal design?
Just improving the aesthetics of contracts with decorative icons and trendy fonts does not produce an effective "legal design product." Adding informative icons and legible typography and hierarchy is a good first step, but that is part of finishing the product. Applying these design principles is ineffective without applying the core rule of legal design: putting the end user at the center of the design process.
In the example above, the difference is crystal clear. Above is an example of a bank's general terms and conditions. These are hard to read, boring, full of legal jargon and made to cover the bank's legal team, not the user. Below is a letter of intent that explains in simple and clear terms what is expected of the user and what the user can expect in return. Both are legal documents, but only one is created with the end user in mind.
3. Introductory materials on legal design
The term "legal design" is gaining attention and more and more people are becoming aware of its effectiveness in communication in the legal context. But to really understand legal design, it is necessary to understand how it is related to design thinking, user experience design, research skills and even some communication/graphic design skills.
For those who love creative problem solving and creating remarkable legal products, legal design, design thinking and communication design are worth exploring. With these skills, law can be made easy and stimulating, and law may even be fun.
For those who want to get started right away, here is a list of blogs on design thinking:
- IDEO's Design Thinking
- Interaction Design Foundation's Definition of Design Thinking
- Nielsen & Norman's definition of design thinking
4. Essential publications to better understand legal design
Here are some of the most essential publications to better understand legal design and its principles:
- Law By Design. This is one of the best-known resources for legal designers. Understanding the core concept of legal design is very important to what you want to accomplish in legal design.
- Legal Communication Design. Managed by Stanford Legal Design Lab, this website is good for understanding communicative legal design.
This is just the beginning of a journey. The next chapter is about the world of design thinking. It is a good introduction to the fundamentals of legal design.
Next chapter of this Beginner's Guide: Design Thinking for Legal Design.