Information Design in Contracts

Information Design in Contracts

How many times have you looked at a lengthy contract and thought to yourself – I really don’t have the time for this; I don’t understand this. Often times, non-lawyer folk want to understand the basic facts and leave technicalities of contracts to their lawyers or business advisors. Sometimes, reading a contract can be difficult. The words and concepts cannot be skimmed. Often times, even the basic words and concepts don’t sound anything like what was negotiated. Contracts already take enough time to negotiate, thus it makes sense that you would not want to spend any more time up to your knees in contracts.

These are some of the most common problems that business owners face when they are working with contracts. Some contracts are a pain to read. Many business owners tend to ignore small details that are buried inside of contracts for the sake of their time and energy. This is not an unreasonable action given that there are only so many hours in a day.

One of the things that we are trying to implement at our firm is to start looking at ways to design information. Information design is a different way of presenting information to a reader or user. We’ve all seen infographics that present a variety of information ranging from political to social data. Those infographics are able to convey a great deal of information very quickly. As a reader, they are fairly easy to navigate.

In the same vein, we would like to help our clients easily navigate contracts that they are going to give to their customers. In doing so, we help our clients’ customers also navigate that contract and everything that they need to know about the relationship.

For example, one of the things that we do here is put the most important terms of the contract right up front. The questions folks generally want answered easily are: what am I buying? How much do I have to pay? Where do I send the bill?

There are more information design elements that can alleviate the strain that comes with a contract full of incomprehensible words. One of those elements is a flow chart. If there is a process by which you and your customers interact, we can put that into a graphic representation by adding a flow chart to the contract. This way the customer can digest questions and options in a different way. They can look at option A, B, or C and clearly see what procedure would follow in each scenario. This also helps the client and their customers understand who is going to be responsible for what. For example, if you are a web designer and you need to do a schematic of a website, you could indicate that your team would be dependent upon the customer to send website content in order to uphold the anticipated timeline.

There are also ways to point attention to important phrases or clauses within a contract by using text boxes or visual cues. You could visually indicate that particular pieces of information are of utmost importance.

Information design in contract form is designed to help your customers – the reader of the contract – look at the document and be able to find the most important points quickly. These techniques help us to present information in an easily digested format.

Information design is created to foster understanding. At the end of the day, a contract is nothing more than a written description of a business relationship. But, the writing does not have to be a wall of words. It can be any type of visualization that fosters understanding, which is at the core of any good business relationship.

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.