- First, you must have a solid grip on the “boring” fundamentals of your contract: your audience, their goals and concerns, and your terms.
- By applying strong design principles to these fundamentals, you can make your contracts clearer, more effective, and time-saving.
- By incorporating your brand guidelines into your legal agreements, you can create instant recognition and a sense of belonging.
Little thought is given to the way contracts actually look. Legal documents all tend to look more or less similar, using the same bland features that have become “standard” in the industry. But when did standard start to mean boring?
Welcome to the contract design starter pack.
Before Contract Design: The Boring Stuff Must Be Done
Thousands of contracts follow these unspoken rules to create dry legal documents and waste everyone’s time:
- One-sided positions and unreasonable terms
- Lengthy forms and long blocks of text that bore readers to death
- Ineffective contracting processes that drain countless hours every year
- Times New Roman, or if we’re lucky, Calibri or Arial fonts
But your contract drafting process does not have to be this way.
To improve the way that contracts look and feel, the change must take place within the ecosystem where contracts are produced and thought through. In other words, we must rethink the methodology of contracts and the tools people actually use to create legal documents on a daily basis.
The good news is that you can absolutely design better contract drafting experiences using Microsoft Word, with just a few techniques. However, good contract design is pointless without first sorting out the way we envisage contracts as a whole.
Contracts should not be a butt-covering exercise.
A contract’s primary purpose is to achieve a winning business outcome as quickly and efficiently as possible. So how do you accomplish this?
Designing a contract can be fun once you get started on the visual elements. But unfortunately, the true recipe for success lies in nailing the boring yet essential stuff.
1. Define Your Intended Audience(s).
Who are they? Sales, procurement, or GCs?
What do they know? Numbers or legal concepts?
What do they need to know? What matters to them? What will get you an instant sign-off?
What do they want to achieve? A quick turnaround time, a safe deal, or achieving a particular milestone?
Nailing this part goes against the way most lawyers currently approach contracts. The norm is usually to have this one-size-fits-all (and therefore no one) approach.
And yet, figuring out these questions about your audience impacts everything that goes your contract: the jargon you use, the way you structure the information presented, the length of the document, and even your starting positions.
2. Adapt Your Language for Your Audience
Technical legal terms could potentially belong depending on who’s interacting with your contract! Plain language does not mean legal writing for dummies, but rather adapting the language used for your target audience.
For example: is the contract intended for an audience of solo business owners who are not accustomed to legal services? Adopt a comforting tone and position. Give them reassurance that they can exit at any time and do not create unnecessary ties.
3. Optimise Your Contract Navigation
Steal my ISE method to deliver your content. Here’s a breakdown:
- I – Important items come first
First, insert the content that matters the most to your audience.
- S – Specific items come next
Then, include the clauses that require expertise (e.g., legal, insurance)
- E – Examples and exceptions last
Anything you use to illustrate your point comes last in your clause section.
4. Content First, Design Last
Once you’ve sorted out the content–what to include or exclude and the way you want your terms to be positioned–then you can look at the design aspect of your document and incorporate some basic but effective visual design principles. Content is the most important part of your contract, but good design can help your readers better understand and synthesize the information in your document.
Now that we’ve gotten the fundamentals out of the way, let’s get into the 5 key design principles that make your contract stand out, appeal to your target audience, and help you build a stronger sense of brand identity.
Follow @SarahOuis on LinkedIn and get in touch with her for help with contract design or LinkedIn content creation for legal professionals.