Exploring the impact of visual contracts

My name is Andrea Montella, I am an interaction design student at TUDelft. Currently, I am developing my master thesis project in collaboration with Visual Contracts with the aim of exploring which is the impact of visual contracts and how we could design fairer contracts for the employment context.

September 2, 2020

Exploring the impact of visual contracts

My name is Andrea Montella, I am an interaction design student at TUDelft. Currently, I am developing my master thesis project in collaboration with Visual Contracts with the aim of exploring which is the impact of visual contracts and how we could design fairer contracts for the employment context. My motivation to develop this project is that I believe that as designers we hold a wide set of different skills which in combination with other disciplines allows us to make a positive impact in the world. Employment contracts have a big influence on the well-being of people, therefore, I decided to frame the project within this context. The goal is to empower people and offer a solution for better agreements using visual contracts as a tool to do it.

Legal documents and procedures are characterized by holding a considerable amount of complexity, which is reflected in the terminology and the language used. As a result of the world globalization, the business environment has become very international, where different languages and cultures get mixed, leading to more complex agreements which are becoming very difficult to narrate and depict (Passera, 2017). The terminology and the complexity of the agreements and nuances of the legal documents can generate cognitive overload (Cowan, 2001), placing the readers in a disadvantaged position as they cannot cope with such a big amount of information.

In consequence, a need for new disciplines has arisen to cope with this convoluted system, like Legal Design. This design discipline, which is still developing, applies human-centered design to improve the legal system and services to make it more usable (Legal Design Alliance, 2018). Additionally, legal design involves Design Thinking applied in the law field with the purpose of guiding people to make more strategic decisions by providing them with knowledge and understanding (Hagan, 2016).

Visual Contracts is a company which is specialized in the field of Legal Design Thinking. Their mission is to provide access to justice in order to empower society. In order to accomplish this mission, they are trying to provide innovation on the legal field by training legal experts on the Legal Design Thinking discipline. Additionally, they work on B2B offering services that bridge the legal world and the people. Their goal is to create an ethical business strategy that is able to create a positive impact on the world.

According to Visual Contracts, Legal Design Thinking is still a new discipline which is currently being shaped. From their perspective, it is based on four pillars: Visual Thinking, Design Thinking, Ux Design, and Legal Thinking. They apply Design Thinking by using research techniques that allow them to understand the context and the human needs and use Visual Thinking to show those complex relationships and systems. Afterwards, they combine UX Design and Legal Thinking to provide solutions to the conflicts that are applicable to the context by creating engaging user experiences that integrate the legal aspects (2018, Visual Contracts).

Information Design can be found as a sub-category inside Legal Design (Passera, 2017). This discipline involves the management of information and how this information is communicated in the form of documents, visualizations, and explanations with the purpose of making them clear and understandable for the users.

Visual contracts are tools to facilitate the comprehension of documents that hold a binding value and can substitute the current long documents with big amounts of text and clauses. These tools create a more accesible version of contracts, as they are a combination of text and illustrations (Passera, 2017). The language used is easier to understand and the structure they follow to present the information is also facilitating the transmission of the message. In context, these new documents ensure that all the parties involved have a clear understanding of the terms and conditions and their obligations and responsibilities, providing all the parties with equal opportunities.

The focus of the project will be on the fairness of employment contracts as these documents are agreements which hold a big impact on people’s lives and are key to ensure the well-being of both, employers and employees. It is important that these documents are clear and understood by both parties to avoid conflicts. An example of these conflicts is that, on the one hand, the companies are not able to communicate in a clear and understandable way the requirements and obligations of their employees. On the other hand, employees are not aware of their rights and obligations because they do not have a clear understanding of the terms of the agreement.

With the aim of aligning with the vision of Visual Contracts and their goal of empowering society, the objective of this project will be to explore the fairness of visual employment contracts by means of the design and qualitative evaluation of contracts. By providing fair employment contracts the well-being and engagement of the parties is ensured and visualization is a means to do so.

In order to be able to design and evaluate the fairness of a contract it is necessary to define fairness. According to the Cambridge Dictionary fairness “is the quality of treating people equally or in a way that is right or reasonable”. However, the way people perceive if they are being “treated right” can be subjective to each situation and individual. In the context of visual contracts, with a focus on employment, two main elements are necessary to create fairness: the understandability and the terms of the agreement. First, the understandability of contracts, as it is fundamental to provide the parties involved with the ability to evaluate the terms of the agreement. Second, the fairness of terms of the agreement, which ensures that the rights of all parties are respected and there are equal opportunities.

To evaluate these two elements, I will perform research and create a common definition of fairness that is adjusted to the context and I will identify the key elements that support it. These insights will be extracted from the literature, from relevant organizations’ criteria (governments, law institutions, etc.) and from the insights gathered from experts (lawyers, law schools, HiiL - The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law) and users (employers and employees). Afterwards, different visual employment contracts will be designed and evaluated with real users using an iterative approach. The goal is to evaluate in a qualitative way the most understandable visualization style, the level of comprehension of the information and the achieved fairness of the terms and conditions.

Finally, a redesigned version of a visual employment contract and an evaluation process will be delivered to the company Visual Contracts, together with the insights of the process. These insights and the documentation of the process will be transformed into guidelines that the company can, later on, use or implement into their process.

If you are interested in the topic and have feedback or inputs you would like to share with me feel free to contact me at Andrea@visualcontracts.eu.

Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24(1), 87–185.
Hagan, M. (2016, September 16). Legal design. Retrieved March 5, 2019 from http://www.lawbydesign.co/en/legal-design/

Legal Design Alliance. (2018, April 4). Legal Design Alliance. Retrieved March 5, 2019, from https://www.legaldesignalliance.org/
Passera, S. (2017). Beyond the wall of contract text - Visualizing contracts to foster understanding and collaboration within and across organizations. Aalto University.
Visual Contracts. (2018). What is Legal Design Thinking? Retrieved April 30, 2019, from https://visualcontracts.eu/community/what-is-legal-design-thinking