#PLAIN2023 Summit Retrospective: A Fusion of Language and Design

career & professional development Dec 21, 2023

Under the theme "Connecting Cultures: Creating Bridges with Clear Communication", the International Plain Language Summit recently concluded in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 27 to 29 September 2023, in collaboration with the Observatorio de Lenguaje Claro (OBS) of the Law School at the National University at Buenos Aires.

This global gathering convened thought leaders, practitioners, and enthusiasts from diverse fields, converging at the intersection of language and design in the wake of the adoption of the ISO Plain Language norms. The 2023 Summit conveyed a crucial message: plain language is not just a destination but an ongoing journey, immersing attendees in a rich dialogue about its transformative power in various sectors. Here are some highlights from the Plain Language International Summit for our readers.

1. Rethinking Plain Language: A Shift from Compliance to Understanding

Traditionally viewed through the lens of compliance, plain language is undergoing a significant recalibration. The emerging ethos recognizes that achieving clarity is not just an obligation but an imperative for genuine understanding.

At the heart of this transition is a recognition that plain language is not a static goal but an ongoing journey. Continuous improvement, refinement, and iteration are not just desirable but imperative elements in this quest for comprehension.  Organizations are urged to embed clear communication principles into their core operations, making it an integral part of their ethos rather than a compliance obligation.

This shift underscores a departure from routine compliance to a holistic transformation—prioritizing comprehension, engagement, and authenticity.  The Summit marked a stride towards a communication landscape prioritizing comprehension and engagement, acknowledging that clarity transcends regulatory checkboxes. Language is an essential element in building trust, reducing misunderstandings, expediting processes, and enhancing relationships. 

2. Legal Design Unveiled: Enhancing Clarity in Legal Documents through Visuals

A captivating highlight of the Summit was the Legal Design panel, exploring the symbiotic relationship between law, design, and effective communication. Featuring experts like Contract Pioneer and Professor Helena Haapio from Finland, Sofía Escobar Vallejo from Colombia, Legal Designer Cecilia Ferrari from Argentina, and Tessa Manuello now based in Brazil, this panel showcased the power of visuals in distilling complex legal information into user-friendly formats.

Traditionally, legal documents were filled with complicated language, treating legal jargon as something necessary to follow complex rules and protect against possible legal issues. But now, there's a new perspective that highlights how clear, easy-to-use, and accessible legal information is not just important for following rules but also crucial for helping people understand and use these documents effectively. 

Legal design leverages visual elements to distill complex information into understandable formats, fostering greater comprehension. Visual elements, such as flowcharts and clear layouts, can make legal documents more approachable. Simultaneously, the use of plain language ensures that legal information is not obscured by unnecessary complexity.  With this approach, legal documents become additional tools to help achieve strategic goals on top of providing legal protection.  This new approach has seen global adoption, leading to smoother negotiation processes, heightened client satisfaction, and improved business outcomes.

This approach resonated with both legal and non-legal professionals, recognizing its potential to mitigate misunderstandings, expedite deals, and foster enhanced clarity between parties involved. This fusion of legal acumen with design thinking signifies a paradigm shift in how legal information is perceived and utilized globally.

3. Plain Language as a Movement: Global Developments and Future Certifications

The evolving narrative of plain language sees global developments indicating its transformative nature. Insights from #PLAIN2023 Summit reveal promising trajectories, including the enforceability of plain language standards and groundbreaking exploration of plain language as a fundamental right.

Researchers are venturing into a hopeful path, examining the feasibility of enforcing plain language standards. The idea that legal measures could turn unclear communication, a long-standing challenge, into a thing of the past has generated excitement. This research avenue has the potential to reshape the legal landscape, turning clarity into not just a recommended practice but a legal necessity.

Groundbreaking research is exploring of the nexus between the Rule of Law and the Right to Understand that would propel plain language from being a mere preference to a potential fundamental right. This shift in perspective marks a significant stride in acknowledging the intrinsic connection between clear communication and the foundational principles of legal governance.

The Way forward

 As we navigate the complex landscape of contemporary communication, the Plain Language International Summit provided a platform for introspection and exploration. The integration of design thinking into plain language initiatives promises to redefine how information is conveyed, received, and comprehended.

Through this confluence of diverse perspectives and expertise, the International Plain Language Summit continues to carve a transformative path in the realms of language, design, and technology. The commitment to clarity resonates not only as a linguistic imperative but as a broader call to cultivate understanding in an ever-evolving communication landscape.

In this unfolding narrative, the journey towards plain language remains an exciting and collaborative endeavor, bridging the gap between tradition and innovation.

You can tune in to the PLAIN Conference Podcast here.