Exploding the Fine Print: Designing Visual, Interactive, Consumer-Centric Contracts and Disclosures

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In this chapter, we present new models for the presentation of contracting terms and interactions, based on user research and design work into consumer contracts. As more contracts become machine-readable, there is an open question of how people will actually interact with these computable contracts, so that they can effectively, efficiently, and meaningfully use them. At Stanford Legal Design Lab we went through several human-centered design cycles to generate new contract designs, gather qualitative feedback about them, and then propose guiding insights and new conceptual models for better consumer-facing legal communications. This initial study led to key principles, models, and patterns that demonstrate how consumer contracts can be more comprehensible, engaging, and effective. Following on this qualitative design research, we then conducted more structured, qualitative evaluations of the new contract interface models that we had designed. We did a comparative study of how users engaged with and used different interface models to determine which ones were most effective. Effectiveness is judged on several criteria: the ability to engage the attention and actions of the user, the ability to help the user comprehend the content that it is communicating, and the ability to help the user make a decision that fits with his or her own preferences and needs. This study can serve all those interested in improving disclosures, terms of service, privacy policies, and various other forms of business-to-consumer contracts. It provides empirical research on new models for communicating complex terms and conditions to lay people. It bridges the literature of contract design for improved usability and outcomes, behavioral economics’ concern for choice engines and decision making, legal scholarship on the effectiveness of disclosure as a regulatory mechanism, and HCI research on how best to engage users and help them navigate systems.

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