Legal Design - Explained Part 3
‘Legal design’ is a new field of work taking the legal industry by storm. But some of you may be asking – “what, er, actually is it?” In this four part series, Legal Design Engineer, Charlotte Baker, explains what we mean by the increasingly popular term ‘legal design’, the principles and tools involved, and explores various real-life examples of legal design in practice.
Part 3 - How do we do Legal Design?
There are various tools, methods and principles involved in legal design.
Divergent and Convergent Thinking
A legal design project usually follows a flow of “divergent thinking” and “convergent thinking”:
Divergent thinking is the ability to generate many ideas or solutions from a single idea or piece of information. Divergent thinking is vital to creative thinking.
Convergent thinking is the ability to take many pieces of information or data and generate one solution. We practice convergent thinking a lot in our everyday lives, sifting through large amounts of information to make decisions.
In a legal design project, combining both types of thinking can unlock the essence of the challenge that needs to be tackled, before addressing that challenge with ideas and solutions. As shown below, it is vitally important to use both types of thinking. First, we go wide, using divergent thinking to be able to take in lots of information or brainstorm lots of ideas. Then we go narrow, using convergent thinking to focus our thoughts and come up with concise summaries or ideas.
User-Centricity and Empathy
In a legal design project, we put the user at the heart of the design – everything is centred around what we learn about the user’s needs and problems. We use empathy to put ourselves in the shoes of the user and really try to understand their perspective.
To get to the right solution, you need to know the real problem. In a legal design project, we work to understand the problems and requirements of the users before designing anything. If we jump straight to developing a solution, without properly understanding the user’s experience and their problems, we end up with a pretty design that doesn’t meet the needs of our users and has wasted valuable time and resources. (See the picture to the left.)
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes”
It is important that your legal design project team is multi-skilled. Collaborating with a diverse group of people, with a range of skills, is crucial for developing the best solutions. Generally, we need some people specialising in specific fields (like technology, people, psychology, designers, lawyers) and (crucially) some representing the users.
The way information is visually presented is essential to how well that information is absorbed and understood. As Edward Tufte says in his work Visual Explanations [Tufte, Edward R., 1942-. Visual Explanations : Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. Cheshire, Conn. :Graphics Press, 1997.], “When principles of design replicate principles of thought, the act of arranging information becomes an act of insight”.
Visualisation a vital component of not only the legal design solution but also the legal design process.
Process: When conducting a legal design project, we work on the principle of “show me, don’t tell me”. This means that there is loads of drawing, acting and scribbling on post-it notes when we run a legal design project!
Solution: The solutions we develop usually incorporate visualisation – diagrams, icons, images, drawings, timelines, flows, clean format etc. Many of us respond to visualisations better than written text – visualisation can be a powerful way to communicate information [in a universal and instantly-understandable way].
We try to use plain, uncomplicated language! This is sometimes difficult when conveying legal concepts, which, in themselves, are often words not used in the everyday life of a non-lawyer – think ‘conveyancing, ‘litigation’, ‘jurisdiction’, ‘torts’. But it’s important to move away from unnecessary “legalese” – if we can say something in plain language, that is universally understandable, we should. [Why do we, as lawyers, so often insist on over-complicating things and confusing the reader by reverting to lengthy paragraphs with unusual words (think ‘notwithstanding’) that no ordinary person would say in everyday life?]
Technology can really enhance legal design solutions, making them interactive and digitally accessible. Technology is not always necessary, however. After considering your users’ preferences and goals, you might decide that a non-technological solution would be the most simple and effective solution. In legal design, it’s just as important to recognise when technology is not the best solution, despite its hype and promises.
Charlotte Baker is Wavelength’s stand out Legal Designer who expertly applies creative and design thinking to the law. This includes using design thinking approaches to focus on the user experience in the legal processes and solutions Wavelength develop.