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Legal Design is an innovative tool to convey legal concepts and make them immediately understandable to the general public.
With Legal Design, the marriage of Design and law is increasingly relevant and tangible. In fact, not only is the law the primary tool for the protection of design works and their authors, but also Design can be a means for legislators (but especially for those who interpret laws) to convey to those who are not legal, even the most complex legal concepts.
From the earliest prehistoric graffiti to the most modern works of Design, via the magnificent Renaissance frescoes and the most surreal and futuristic works of art of the 20th century, artists have always wanted to convey a message to the general public.
Legal Design was born for the same reason: to convey legal concepts and make them immediately understandable and usable for the general public. Legal Design (literally, Design of the law) is the application of Design to the legal world to make legal systems and services human-centric. It is a multidisciplinary subject combining different skills from different if not antithetical, disciplinary fields to make legal content understandable and usable to the recipient.
It is Professor Margaret Hagan who, in 2013, institutionalized Legal Design as a subject of study, founding it within Standford University, where she still teaches the Legal Design Lab and thus becomes its pioneer and the main point of reference for scholars and enthusiasts of the subject. Specifically, Margaret Hagan defines Legal Design as “the application of UX design to the legal world to make legal systems and services more human-centric, usable and satisfying” for the user. Legal Design is, in fact, nothing more than the combination of the legal world with tech and design solutions to bring legal content back to an earthly, human-friendly dimension so that it can communicate with the end user.
The primary purpose of Design applied to the communication of information (and legal content) stems from the need to communicate a specific message and to get a desired response. Visually representing information to create meaning effectively is a matter of Design; it must consider how to convey a message or information. Through visual elements, it is, in fact, possible to communicate information or concepts to facilitate their understanding by engaging the target audience. Applying this concept to the legal world is not just a matter of drafting or redesigning legal documents but of empathizing with one’s audience and using the suitable medium and tone of voice to communicate legal content.
To this end, Legal Design allows for reducing the complexity of legal communication by taking an empirical approach, making the legal text more lexically understandable (using the so-called “plain language”), as well as revolutionizing the document through the application of an information architecture process. This allows lawyers and designers to work together to create legal content that is user-friendly, usable, and, above all, understandable by the most significant number of users and, in particular, by those without legal skills. As Hagan brilliantly states, Legal Design provides a pair of glasses (“a new pair of glasses”) for the end user to read the legal content of a document.
Therefore, not only is the content essential but also the architecture of the document and the management of the information it contains is equally relevant when the recipient reads the document. For the document to be effective and have the desired feedback, that is, to be easily understood by its readers, it is, therefore, necessary to take an innovative approach to achieve a human-centric dimension of content and bring the concepts expressed closer to the readers themselves.
In Legal Design, the tools to achieve this are icons, colors, tables, charts, links, and text links to sections, pages, and external content. But Legal Design is something more profound; it is not enough to simplify and reshape the graphic guise of legal content to make it more usable and appealing, but it is essential to understand the type of users who are to benefit from it and to whom it is addressed to understand their needs and requirements, as well as to approach their context, cultural and social, also by adapting the tone of voice used. For example, depending on the type of users of a given service, also identified based on their age group and social and cultural context, specific language must be used – simpler and colloquial in the case of young audiences or more formal and technical in the case of professional users – to convey legal concepts appropriately and directly.
Legal Design is, therefore, the solution to this problem. Indeed, a user-friendly approach, accompanied by an attractive layout, can enable companies to leverage innovative solutions to sell their products or services better and still obtain (and revoke) users’ consent dynamically. For example, by allowing users to give or revoke their consent (where necessary) to data processing, i.e., to change their preferences easily, immediately, and without formality, the user is stimulated to give consent as they are aware that they can just as easily revoke it.
To effectively achieve this goal, however, it is necessary for both souls of Legal Design-the “legal” and the “design” souls to talk to each other, i.e., to involve both a legal professional to be able to rework and simplify the contents of the documents, while retaining their legal meaning and value and a designer who can depict legal concepts with images and diagrams, without distorting their meaning. It is, therefore, not enough to renovate or reshape legal documents such as procedures and disclosures. Still, contracts and court documents, in the most ambitious of cases, follow a traditional approach. Still, it is necessary to adopt an innovative methodology or, instead, a design thinking model, juxtaposing – precisely – the legal soul with the design soul.
In conclusion, Legal Design will increasingly be an indispensable tool for companies wishing to establish a more transparent link with their users. Indeed, it can be the key to interpreting legal content and related legal concepts in a modern and innovative way to bring them closer, even to those who are not experts in the field.
On the intersection between law and Design, you can read the article “NFTs and art: a journey into the world of crypto art and its legal issues.”