06 Dec Information Design Ideas for Organizing Information
Often when small or medium sized businesses who are contract dependent are dealing with their customers, one of the most difficult things to understand is how the layout of a contract improves the overall quality of the contract.
Recently, there has been a trend in the legal world that lawyers are becoming more cognizant of what business owners really care about. More and more we are starting to see the most important financial and business terms being crowded to the front of the contract, which makes sense. A busy business person is not going to read twenty pages of dense legalese. They want to know: how much am I buying, how much am I paying, how do I deliver, how do I get paid, etc. They want to know the “business on the ground” details. It is us geeky lawyers that worry about indemnification or dispute resolution.
What lawyers and business owners can do together is organize the information that makes the contract easier to read. There are many ways that you can do this, such as layering or including a table of contents. We are especially careful to include a table of contents if a contract runs over twenty pages. Take a look at this creative, visual example designed for street vendors in New York City. This guide was designed for street vendors to know their rights, avoid fines, and earn fair wages and took into account various cultures, languages, and education levels in its presentation.
One thing I would like to explore within the information design realm is how to use a series of icons to help clients navigate contracts. We are in a world where we have gotten used to abbreviations and emojis. Icons help you call out particular information and organize terms in such a way that the customer can understand. For example, if we had a contract with monetary terms, we could place an icon with a dollar sign any time a monetary topic was discussed. Or, perhaps we were talking about things that the customer cannot do. We could place a circle with a slash icon next to these sections. There could also be items of information that are critical that you need clients to sign off on. Here you could place an icon such as a stop sign, thus indicating to the customer that they must read and sign off on those particular sections. Icons guide people through the contract so that they can flip through and see various categories.
In developing a visualized structure of the document, you are offering readers organized information that can be digested and retuned back to with ease.
To organize the information, you have to have a really good grasp of who your customers are. This is not who you think your customers are, but who they actually are. This is where a little bit of design thinking and process improvement would come into play. If you have a customer that you are routinely using a similar contract on, you can change the contract and ask for their feedback – does this help you understand the contract better? Are these icons or this map helpful for you to understand what is being said and how things should be done?
These concepts go a long, long way to helping customers better understand the contract and pay special attention to the most important points. You can help your customers better understand your work and relationship by making these types of changes. If they understand what is going on, you’re going to have a better business relationship going forward.
As always, if you are interested in thinking about different ways to present your contract to your customers, give us a call. We would be happy to help.