5 min read

Innovating Legal Design: A Human-Centric Approach

Published on
May 17, 2024

In today's rapidly evolving digital landscape, the intersection of law and technology presents both challenges and opportunities for innovation. One notable trend gaining traction within the legal industry is the adoption of human-centric design principles. This approach seeks to revolutionise the creation and presentation of legal documents by prioritising the needs and experiences of users. In a recent discussion hosted by "The Law of Tech" podcast, Marie Potel-Saville, Founder and CEO at Fairpatterns and Amurabi, shed light on the concept of innovation by design and underscored the pivotal role of trust in legal documents.

Understanding Human-Centric Design

At the heart of the shift towards human-centric design lies a departure from traditional user-centric approaches. Human-centric design goes beyond surface-level considerations of the user persona, and user journey, to incorporate insights from neuroscience about what it means to be a human connecting to the design in question. By delving into human needs, cognitive biases, and limitations, this approach aims to create more intuitive and user-friendly experiences. Specifically, Marie emphasises the adverse effects of information overload in dense legal documents, citing research indicating its potential to induce stress and impede comprehension.

In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman dissects the brain’s perception into two systems of thought: System 1 and System 2, with System 1 being the automatic, involuntary thinking, and System 2 being a slower, more concentrated effort. Marie refers to Kahneman’s research in relation to legal document design, saying, “Information overload has an immediate effect which is you stop learning. The immediate reflex is “I’m not going to read that”…it shuts down the learning process in the brain. So imagine if you transpose that just for a second on anything that lawyers produce whether in real life or in the digital world. It’s walls of text, it’s walls of jargon. The immediate effect it has on the brain, is System 1, according to Kahneman: “I don’t read.”

Navigating Challenges in Traditional Legal Documents

Traditional legal documents often suffer from a lack of engagement, understandability and usability. Marie explains that the problem with template-driven practices is that they prioritise efficiency over user experience. Such approaches overlook the diverse needs and cognitive abilities of end-users, resulting in documents that are intimidating and inaccessible to many. This highlights the urgency of adopting human-centric design methodologies to address these shortcomings effectively. For legal documents to be read, and clearly understood, they first have to accommodate the user, and especially their first impressions. This approach takes us away from unattractive walls of text, and toward a document that is not only visually attractive, but provides a process in which we can find the information we need and know what to do with that information: a document we actually want to engage with.

This means that the approach to transforming legal documents is not simply about making a document visually appealing. Yes, it will ultimately look better, and that’s a necessary element, but that’s a secondary outcome of its primary purpose. A good legal document is visually appealing precisely because it’s designed to be used, or in other words **it has a human-centric design.

Combatting Dark Patterns: Regulatory Initiatives and Empowerment

Dark patterns, and deceptive design elements aimed at influencing user behavior, represent a pervasive issue in digital interactions, including legal interfaces. Marie discussed the regulatory initiatives increasingly targeting these practices, with explicit prohibitions embedded in legislation such as the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act.

As Marie says, “Deceptive patterns are interfaces that manipulate you to make you behave without realizing, or to do things against your own interest.”

Having recognized the pervasiveness of these problematic patterns, Marie created both Amurabi and Fair Patterns, both of which play their part in ensuring that our digital world brings true benefits to users. She stresses that we must distance ourselves from the basic approach of tech for the sake of tech, which too often wrongly assumes that sidestepping user understanding is a faster path to profits. As a counter to this, Marie makes the case for human-centric digital progress which would ensure that technology serves the genuine needs and well-being of users.

Together, Marco, Hadassa discuss with Marie the legislative wave around the world against opacity, misleading terms, and lack of user-centricity.

How do you spot a deceptive pattern? For example, be aware of:

  • Salience: be aware that you are sensitive to the shinier, bigger items. Usually, you will find that something like accepting cookies is easier to find than the reject button.
  • Confirm shaming: do you feel bad clicking on a button? This is done intentionally. Some companies will shame you when you want to click on a no-thanks button by adding text to that button like, “no I don’t want to look my best”. This persuades the user against making the decision that they want to make and puts pressure on them to click on the button that the company prefers.

If you spot a deceptive pattern, you can make a difference! Go directly to report any deceptive pattern you find on Harry Brignull's Hall of Shame. Contribute to greater transparency and accountability in the digital realm.

Fostering Trust through Fair Patterns

Marie underscores the economic benefits of trust-driven design, emphasising its potential to enhance customer loyalty and brand reputation. Initiatives such as the Fair Patterns trust certification currently being created will seek to signal to consumers that interfaces are completely devoid of dark patterns and crafted with fairness in mind. Any company with a Fair Patterns trust certification will be Fair by Design. This will foster greater trust and confidence in legal documents, bolstering their effectiveness and legitimacy.

Embracing Innovation by Design in the Legal Sphere

In conclusion, the legal industry is undergoing a paradigm shift towards innovation by design, placing human needs at the forefront of legal document creation. Through initiatives like Fair Patterns and regulatory efforts to combat deceptive patterns, the industry is poised to deliver more accessible, user-friendly, and trustworthy legal experiences in the digital age. By embracing human-centric design principles, legal professionals can pave the way towards a more equitable and user-centric future, redefining the boundaries of legal innovation in the digital era.

Listen to the full podcast episode hosted by The Law of Tech and gain deeper insights into the intersection of law, technology, and human-centric design. We extend our gratitude to The Law of Tech, and Marco Mendola, and Hadassa Drukarch for hosting this enlightening discussion. Follow us on Linkedin for more news and podcast updates.

Amurabi helped us think out of the box in a very powerful way

Jolling de Pree

Partner at De Brauw

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