4 Common Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid When Using Legal Visualizations

contract design legal design Feb 14, 2024

By Tessa Manuello, Founder & CEO of Legal Creatives | The Legal Designers

In the rapidly expanding field of legal design, practitioners frequently find themselves navigating the intricate dance between creativity and functionality. Legal Design, defined as the application of design thinking methods and techniques to the legal service delivery, offers professionals a refreshingly new and effective approach to enhance their documents, such as contracts, legal notices, privacy policies, terms of use and more. Doing so, any professionals working with contracts, privacy, compliance or law can elevate the aesthetic appeal of their documentations and efficiency of their work.

But first things first, what are the real and tangible benefits of using visual elements in contracts, compliance and legal documents? For contract drafters, compliance professionals and practicing attorneys the benefits are tangible and this is why incorporating design into legal documents is not just an aesthetic choice; but a strategic decision with multifaceted benefits. Beyond the surface, the infusion of design elements brings about a paradigm shift, delivering a host of advantages that extend far beyond the visual itself!

  • In the fast-paced world of business, time is of the essence. Using visuals accelerates deal negotiations by streamlining the communication process and clarifying the content itself. Well-designed documents enable stakeholders to quickly grasp key points, facilitating smoother negotiations and expediting decision-making. The visual clarity offered by design reduces the chances of misinterpretation, allowing deals to progress more efficiently.
  • Additionally, legal documents are notorious for their complexity and dense legalese which hinders comprehension for non-experts. Design, however, acts as a powerful ally in breaking down these barriers. Thoughtful visual elements such as icons, charts, and infographics serve as visual cues, simplifying intricate concepts and making the content more accessible to a broader audience. By enhancing comprehension, legal professionals can ensure that their messages are crystal clear, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings. 

The use of legal visualizations is key to achieve these benefits but it's not an easy process for professionnals who are new to this approach. Drawing from over a decade of experience, I've stumbled upon these four sneaky mistakes that no one really talks about in the field of legal design and visualizations. You do not need to be excessively creative when doing your visuals. In fact it's quite the opposite! In this article, I'm uncovering these hidden slip-ups that don't usually make it to the headlines.

So here are four design mistakes you can easily fix (or avoid) that you might not have thought about that can hinder the effectiveness of legal visualizations. I aim to provide very practical strategies to help you ensure redesigned documents not only engage your audience, increase comprehension, but also communicate in a professional manner, without loosing legal accuracy 

1. Don't overuse visuals and don't try to be original with your document redesign or put yourself at risk of looking utterly unprofessional!

A common mistake I see is attempting to incorporate too many creative elements, resulting in a distracting and cluttered output. Clients, more often than not, prefer clarity over a visual "Christmas tree" of icons. The key is to keep it clean, sleek, and minimalistic. Don't get overly excited by the possibilities visuals can offer. Instead of trying to be creative and original, dare to be boring with your design. Here is why maintaining simplicity in design is crucial for several reasons.

Firstly, it enhances clarity, ensuring that the primary message is communicated effectively. When creative elements are overly abundant, the visual appeal might overshadow the core information, leading to confusion and a lack of understanding. Clients, whether individuals or businesses, typically value straightforward, easy-to-comprehend materials. A cluttered design filled with excessive icons, colors, and intricate elements can create a visual overload, hindering the audience's ability to extract essential information. In legal documents, clarity is paramount, as misinterpretations can have significant consequences.

Moreover, a clean, sleek, and minimalistic design contributes to a more professional and polished appearance. When documents are visually streamlined, they exude a sense of reliability, instilling clarity and confidence in the audience. Additionally, simplicity facilitates accessibility. A visually cluttered document may pose challenges for individuals with visual impairments. A design that prioritizes simplicity ensures that the information is easily accessible to a broader audience, promoting inclusivity and compliance with accessibility standards.

Lastly, embracing simplicity is strategic in preventing the dilution of the message. Aiming for creativity and originality is admirable, but not at the expense of the document's primary purpose. Legal documents serve specific functions, and their designs should prioritize functionality over excessive creativity. By daring to be "boring" in design, professionals prioritize the document's purpose, ensuring that it effectively serves its intended role without unnecessary distractions.

Here are some practical strategies you can use to be consistent and professional in the use of the visuals:

  • Clarity Over Creativity: While creativity is encouraged, functionality should take precedence. Clients expect a professional appearance that conveys information effectively. Don't undermine precious information just because you'd like to be creative. When in doubt, don't be creative! Instead, focus on functionality!
  • Less is More: Embrace simplicity. Consistency in the use of colors, typography, and design elements is crucial. Remember, a clean design fosters better communication. Use less icons, but use them more intentionally: To signal importance, to facilitate the reading experience, or to enhance the document navigation.

That's the power of sleek simplicity! Prioritizing quality over quantity! Now, let's navigate through another common pitfall to sidestep.

2. Don't be obsessed with shortening documents; instead, focus on making navigation easier.

A prevalent misconception is the insistence on shortening complex legal information. The drive to condense documents can compromise quality, reduce legal protection, and hinder legibility. Prioritizing content navigation over squeezing everything onto a smaller number of pages is essential.

This comes from the false belief that legal design is all about shortening complex legal information. This inclination to condense documents often stems from a desire to save space and time, and make the reading experience easier. When in fact it's quite the contrary! The relentless pursuit of brevity can inadvertently compromise the overall quality of the document and reading experience. The consequences may include a reduction in legal protection, as intricate details might be omitted or oversimplified, potentially leaving gaps that could have legal ramifications. Additionally, the legibility of the document might suffer, making it challenging for readers to process information effectively.

This is why it is crucial to prioritize content navigation over the impulse to fit everything onto a single page. Instead of fixating on document length, professionals should concentrate on organizing information in a coherent manner, facilitating a seamless reading experience. This approach ensures that the document remains comprehensive, legally robust, and easily understandable, without succumbing to the pitfalls of unnecessary brevity.

Here are some practical strategies you can use to focus on document navigation:

  • Content Navigation: Focus on organizing the content logically for your readers using prominent headings, colors to signal importance, and plenty of white space. This approach enhances engagement and facilitates comprehension. Contrary to popular belief, a longer document with plenty of white space is easier to read! 
  • Clickable menus: When enhancing content navigation, consider adding clickable navigation menus and sidebar options. These interactive features streamline the user experience, enabling effortless movement through the document. 

That's the power of navigating complexity, with strategies emphasizing content organization and interactive elements like clickable menus and sidebars. Now, let's explore the next pitfall to avoid in the pursuit of effective legal design.

3. Don't over-rely on internal or external designers to do the design for you, instead learn how to make basic legal visualizations features

Outsourcing design work to internal or external designers may result in aesthetically pleasing but not necessarily to more usable information. Legal design goes beyond aesthetics; it's about conveying information effectively. The solution lies in empowering professionals to integrate design expertise with legal knowledge or in learning basic legal visualizations techniques yourself when drafting a document. This will not only save you time but will also increase the clarity of the information delivered.

Entrusting design work to either internal or external designers poses a common pitfall. While the resulting documents may boast aesthetic appeal, a critical aspect often overlooked is functionality. Legal design is not merely about creating visually pleasing materials; its primary objective is to convey complex information effectively. The intricate nuances of legal content require a comprehensive understanding, and this is where the collaboration between legal professionals and designers becomes crucial. To collaborate you need to invest time with your designer. This is a best practice but it is not always feasible, simply because you may not have the time to establish good working synergies or lack the resources to establish solid design processes. 

Rather than outsourcing the entire design process, learning basic legal visualizations techniques helps acquire a practical understanding of how to design legal information in a more effective way. With basic functional knowledge about how design applies to contracts, legal or compliance information, you are fully empowered to initiate and execute this process effectively, without having to rely on a (often costly) designer. This helps ensure that the end product not only looks good but also serves its purpose. Striking a balance between design aesthetics and legal functionality is the key to overcoming this common stumbling block in legal design.

Here are some practical strategies you can use to focus on merging design and legal expertise:

  • Understand legal design in action: Any professional can learn basic legal visualizations. They key is to learn by doing. This empowers professionals working with contracts, compliance or legal to draft documents effectively from the outset. 
  • Rely on templates: Utilizing templates can be a valuable strategy to merge design and legal expertise seamlessly. Templates provide a structured framework that incorporates both aesthetic elements and legal considerations. This approach streamlines the document creation process, allowing you to focus on refining and customizing visuals to suit specific legal contexts. 

In embracing DIY (Do it Yourself) legal visualizations and relying upon templates, you are not just streamlining the design approach; you are empowering yourself with the tools to seamlessly merge design principles with legal expertise, ensuring documents are not only aesthetically pleasing but also functionally robust and effective. 


4. The golden rule: Practical functionality over excessive creativity!

While creativity is encouraged, an overemphasis on mixing too many different visual elements can create a distracting experience and unprofessional appearance. The golden rule is clear: 'boring' functionality should take precedence over excessive creativity.

While fostering creativity is undoubtedly valuable in legal visualizations, a common pitfall involves an overemphasis on amalgamating various visual elements such as icons, colors, typography, graphics etc. This tendency can lead to a visually overwhelming experience, cognitive overload and totally unprofessional appearance, detracting from the primary purpose of legal design. The golden rule to adhere to is clear and unwavering: functionality must take precedence over the allure of excessive creativity. Striking the right balance between creativity and functionality ensures that your legal visualizations not only captivate but also effectively convey the essential information without compromising legal accuracy or diminishing your professional reputation.

Here are some practical strategies you can use to balance creativity and functionality:

  • Effective Communication: Prioritize functionality for effective communication. Your goal is clarity, not an artistic masterpiece.
  • Start Small, Improve Continuously: Begin with a functional approach, and incrementally enhance creativity. A steady improvement process ensures impactful legal visualizations.

Maintaining the balance between creativity and functionality is paramount for legal visualizations to be effective. Now, let's recap and transition from theory to practice! 

5. Biggest lesson: Don't sacrifice functionality for aesthetics. Join me on this journey with the Visual Lawyer Bootcamp!

I repeat: Don't try to be overly creative; be functional! Functionality is the key to effective legal design. Functionality is key, but achieving it isn't always easy. This is precisely why I have an entire Bootcamp on the topic! The Visual Lawyer Bootcamp is the surest path towards mastering legal visualizations in practice. It is a structured and elaborated program designed to equip professionals with the skills needed to create impactful legal visualizations.

With six core modules, 12 live sessions, CPD credits, and plug-and-play templates, this bootcamp offers a really hans-on experience that is guaranteed to give you results. This course has countless successful case studies by Bootcampers that clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of our approach. "I have appreciated the clarity and richness of the modules, the incredible exchanges within the group, and the endless support of Tessa. These workshops are amongst the best I have taken in years." - Hawai said, legal entrepreneur from France.

The program is the first legal design course to go through formal CDP accreditation process with an independent third party, which attest of the quality of the materials and methods. This is a significant milestone which serves as a robust testament to the program's commitment to quality for your professional development and continuing education.

But it's way more than just a course, it's about what you can do with it in real-life. Like Louise, in-house counsel from Denmark who is implementing what she's learned in the course when drafting contracts: "If you're interested in improving contract drafting, legal design, or visualization of legal terms, I cannot recommend this course enough. It's hands-on, practical, and leaves you with tons of knowledge and confidence in your skills." - she said. 

Embark on a journey to elevate your legal expertise with visualizations skills. The Visual Lawyer Bootcamp is not just about learning; it's a community! With participants from all over the globe, don't miss this opportunity to enhance your skillset and your network. The Bootcamp is a hands-on cohort based course, so it's open for registrations at a specific time throughout the year. 

Discover more about the Visual Lawyer Bootcamp here and sign up for the course or the waitlist to unlock legal design mastery. Your journey to impactful legal visualizations is about to begin and I'll be honored to guide you through the process.