Legal Contract Design with Stefania Passera from Passera Design

Lawyers can design better contracts with legal design

“Legal design is not a magic unicorn. It’s not glitter, sparkles, or buzzwords. It’s the application of human-centered design to the world of law to create outcomes that are as functional, inclusive, transparent, and useful as possible.”

Stefania Passera

This is a summary of an interview between Hannele Korhonen from Lawyers Design School and Stefania Passera, a scholar, professional designer, and pioneer in contract and legal design. We talked about legal contract design, and Stefania shared

You can watch the video for Stefania’s presentation slides on how lawyers can use design to help make doing business easier and achieve better outcomes faster.  

Who is Stefania Passera

Hannele: Those in the legal design arena know who you are because you’ve been practicing design since before it was cool. Can you tell those who don’t know you a little about yourself?

Stefania: I’m a trained designer and I wrote my Master’s in design. 

These days I’m a solopreneur and run my own company Passera Design. 

At the same time, I’m the contract designer in residence at World Commerce and Contracting. 

At World CC I train people on contract design and simplification projects and speak about contract design and the benefits of working in this way.

And I have an academic background. I’ve been doing design since before it was “cool” – for over a decade. Back then there wasn’t much theory or practice.

I ended up writing a Ph.D. on contract visualization. The language has evolved since then and my PhD was on a specific area of contract design. 

How has legal design evolved?

Stefania: Over the last 10 years I’ve seen legal design get a name and become a thing. It’s exciting because with the introduction of tools and legal mindset shifts, more people are embracing design, and it doesn’t sound so crazy anymore. 

Lawyers are more ready to give it a chance or even understand what this design contract simplification innovation is about – and why we need it. 

I spent 10 years justifying my existence as a professional and academic, trying to occupy space and fighting hard for what I thought made sense. I was the crazy contract design lady then, and now many people are working in the field, so it’s not so crazy anymore.

How do you define legal design

Stefania: I tried to keep it pretty straightforward, simple, and as wide as possible, so I’m giving you a definition of legal design without the hype. 

It’s not a magic unicorn. It’s not glitter, sparkle, or buzzwords. It’s the application of human-centered design to the world of law to create outcomes that are as functional, inclusive, transparent, and useful as possible. 

In my definition, people say, “Okay, what do you mean by the world of law?” I mean that we’re talking about outcomes in law. And the world of law needs to be understood quite widely.

For example, I work with contracts and contracting. To me, they are not purely legal phenomena. There are legal ingredients and legal boundaries to consider in the design practice. Otherwise, you’re not going to build anything functional. 

But the legal considerations are just one aspect.

The legal elements are dealt with quickly when we get engagement from the in-house counsel. 

I talk about outcomes because it’s not only about solving problems. Why? Because we should be proactive and promote goals that are not only solving problems. There’s also a cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimension because we deal with people who want great outcomes and experiences.

Of course, there’s the legal lens. But for me, the legal lens is more like a checklist of requirements. Is whatever we’re building still legal? Does it have a legal effect? is it applicable? Is it correct, is it fair and enforceable?

Are design principles for contracts industry specific?

Stefania: We face similar considerations when we’re designing for engineering or in the medical field. We have strict requirements to adhere to as well. Legal contracts aren’t special. 

Shrap: A commercial contract applying user-centered design

Hannele: Can you share an example of a contract design process that involved legal aspects?

Stefania: Shrap is a UK-based startup in the FinTech section. They wanted to make an app for businesses and consumers to collect their small change from purchases on an app, rather than the hassle of having coins.

Consumers tend to lose coins and businesses are watching the shift to digital transactions. In some small towns, there may not be a bank branch, so shop owners need to close the store to go to the city to deposit the cash. It’s not efficient, so they’ve been experimenting with us to create an app where people can store and transact their small change on an app.

But of course, when you’re dealing with people’s money, there’s the issue of trust. 

As a start-up, people don’t know Shrap. Even though the amounts are small, they’re asking people to entrust their money, and we need to build trust because their users range from older people to kids going to buy ice cream.

So we needed to create a transparent, inclusive, and trustworthy brand. You don’t even need to have a phone to use Shrap, or even download the app. 

What was the Shrap design process

Stefania: When we did the project, we started with user research.

Peter Hornsby, a UX researcher and consultant, and I lead the research. 

The founders of Shrap were really involved. 

We didn’t work directly with their external counsel, but he would check what we were doing. And the founders asked him not to overcomplicate it.  So they had an external counsel that understood the outcome. 

And to embed it with the brand we liaised with the designer who designed the look and feel we needed.

The final contract design elements

Stefania: If you look at the website you can see we kept the design simple and easy to read. 

Here are the main elements you can see

  • Two clean entry points for consumers and businesses, so users don’t read information not relevant to them
  • Icons with brief, clear explanations of how the app or card works
  • A dedicated focus on making the contract balanced for the parties – rather than spending six months arguing about words and potential risks, the founders did a risk assessment and included only the things they thought were fair and necessary
  • Easy-to-read headings in each section with more full (yet still easy-to-read) sections below
  • Only 400 words in the legal section, (written at grade eight level)
  • The simple site and app navigation

There was a lot more to it than what you see on the website and the app – but the outcome the founders wanted was an app both consumers and businesses would trust and adopt – and use. 

The World Commerce & Contracting and Better Contract Design Mark

Hannele: Shrap has the World Commerce and Better Contract Design Mark. Can you tell us about it?

Stefania: I helped the World CC develop the Better Contract Design Mark. 

I feel like an imposter to say I developed this because we built on the foundations that Rob Waller and the Simplification Center made in defining the criteria for clear documents. So we tweaked and operationalized them to apply a score to a contract. 

But we launched this mark a few years ago because Sally Guyer, the CEO of World CC, felt that we should empower and celebrate those organizations that dare to go above and beyond what we see in typical contracts. 

You know, the horrible, awful wall of text. But there are now people trying to go above and beyond these standard contracts and make contracts better for business, better for relationships and better for the users. 

So we wanted to create this mark to celebrate those people and give them visibility as much as we can to and, you know, just lift them as an example of what could be and hopefully, empower people creating a fear of missing out and empower people to try by themselves. 

People and organizations can apply for the mark as long as it is a contract they are using in their business – and they have tried to apply contract design principles to achieve better outcomes. So if you have a contract that goes above and beyond, you can just email us and say, “Okay, we would like to apply.”

World Commerce & Contracting and Better Contract Design Mark assessment criteria

Hannele: What happens after an organization applies for the mark?

Stefania: 

  • We’re going to ask you a few questions. For example, “What sort of work have you done? Who is your audience, and what is the purpose of the contract.”
  • One of our reviewers will review the contract 
  • If it’s clear no real work has happened or you’ve thrown a few icons around and changed a font, we’re going to reject it
  • If it is different and you’ve made an effort, we will give you feedback on how to improve your score and earn the mark – the feedback is specific and actionable and a great incentive to keep striving to achieve more stars.

And we force our clients to think about what they want to achieve. If this contract is a tool, what do you want it to do?

They need to have an answer for that. And if they don’t have it, we’ll help them reflect. But at some point, they will have to have that answer. Or it’s going to be an empty exercise. It’s not going to help if they don’t have the answers.

Start designing your contracts

Hannele: thank you so much for sharing that with us. What would you recommend to listeners looking for ways to learn more about designing legal contracts?

World CC Contract Design Pattern Library

Stefania: You’ll find great design examples in the World CC library of design patterns. The tools are open-access and free. They help solve communication problems and usability problems that often occur in contracting. People don’t read if they don’t find information understandable, and engaging. 

In this collection, we have 30 contract design patterns. 

Have a look at the pattern families like layering, explaining and various other ways the title shows you. And you can look for examples. 

The examples come from companies who kindly permitted us to share their new modern visual contracts and redesigned contracts. They illustrate how we can design and present contracts differently. 

Contracts that are understandable, easier to follow and easier to bring into practice.

Legal design thinking: IRL. Episode 34

You’ve just read a summary of my LinkedIn Live with design rockstar Stefania Passera.

You can find Stephanie on her website and LinkedIn

Each week I provide actionable advice for law firm owners and discuss real-life legal design in action.  This week we talked about better contract design.

What do you think about Stefania’s talk? Are you going to check out Shrap or the World CC resources and see if any apply to your contracts? As always, I encourage you to check out the YouTube video and see the slide deck.

You can catch a replay of episode 34  Legal Design Thinking: IRL or join me live and ask questions.

Legal Design Thinking IRL: Episode 34

Want to chat about it?

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Watch all the Legal Design IRL Episodes episodes.