When was the last time you clicked on “I agree” without reading the terms and conditions of use (T&Cs) on an app or website? Do you sign contracts without reading them because you feel pressured by time and don?t want to look?ignorant in front of other people?
At the UXSG Meetup #27, I hosted a discussion to hear from UX practitioners on their perceptions and practices dealing with T&Cs of contracts. This write-up is a summary of the thoughts that were shared. It is not meant to be used as a guide or as legal advice.
As this discussion covered many areas, the points have been organised into these broad categories: Context and Perspectives, Approach, Rationale
Context and Perspectives
Generally, T&Cs are not very user-centric in terms of how they are written, how they are presented, and the options that users have in accepting them. The consensus was that UX dealing with T&Cs is mostly negative.?To frame the discussion, we talked about the perspectives of various groups of people who experience reading or creating T&Cs.
- Users of product/service
Users don’t really read T&Cs. Why? Many T&Cs contain complicated terms and legal jargon. This makes it difficult for non-legally trained human beings to understand them.
- Legal counsel
Many T&Cs out there could be simpler, but there is also a risk of oversimplification. Complex matters may need detailed explanations and some ?jargon? are technical terms which have specific meanings under the law.
- New startups and freelancers
New startups and freelancers have different priorities and challenges from more established companies. Primary concerns for new startups include funding, marketing, scaling up, hiring the right people, etc. Getting sued is considered an ?off chance? occurrence that might happen only when the startup is successful. Barriers in creating user-friendly T&Cs include cost of legal services, time constraints, insufficient understanding of the law to apply it contextually (plus in new areas, the law is playing catch-up with technology).
- More established companies/corporations
One of the challenges faced is balancing complex business interests and diverse groups of stakeholders. Another is providing the same quality of services for users in different countries where laws vary and people may have different cultural expectations.
How might we create better experiences for users of T&Cs?
- Consider who the user of the T&Cs will be
The user of a set of T&Cs isn?t always just the end-user of a product/service. To understand who uses the T&Cs, consider these questions:
- Who is affected? There may be a range of users who will be affected by the T&Cs. We should pay attention especially to?more vulnerable users e.g. elderly, children, patients, visually impaired, etc.
- Who is responsible? For companies that engage users as providers of a service (e.g. drivers in ride-sharing apps or volunteer helpers in caregiving apps), T&Cs need to be clear enough for users understand the consequences of taking on such responsibilities.
- Who is administering it? Besides the legal team, other people within the company may need to be aware of the T&Cs as part of their job scope e.g. operations staff, customer-facing staff, developers, etc.
While T&Cs are drafted primarily for the benefit of the company/client, we could be more sensitive of the needs of these other users. It may be useful to get feedback from these users on their understanding of the T&Cs, bearing in mind any conflicts of interest.
Example: When testing a product for early-stage dementia patients, the contract may be just between your company and the patient. However, other people in the ecosystem surrounding the patient (e.g. medical professionals, caregivers, designers, etc.) could be affected or have a role to play in using the product. In such cases, a company may want to make a policy decision to ensure that the T&Cs not only protect the company?s interests but are also user-centric where possible.
- Consider the core purpose of the product or service
Why would a flashlight app need access to your contacts? Requests for permissions or personal data should be made only if they are necessary for the core purpose of the product/service.
Example: The Apple App Store may prevent developers from putting up an app when the app asks for sensitive information, like ethnicity, when it isn?t relevant to its function.
The same approach is taken by Singapore?s Personal Data Protection Act, where a request for personal data has to be for a purpose that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances.
- Consider guiding principles, general intent, and key points
- Guiding principles Based on the product/service?s core purpose, companies could come up a set of guiding principles to guide the creation of policies, T&Cs, and other decisions.
Example: In recruiting participants for clinical research, safety of the participant is paramount. T&Cs drafted based on this principle may include more extensive clauses on consent, insurance, safety and health.
- General intent and key points Stating the general intent and distilling the key points of the T&Cs right at the start could help users grasp the essence of the T&Cs more easily. Example: This project attempts to create an accessible format for previewing T&Cs.
- Consider a layered approach
- Separate needs and wants Categorise requests for personal data into 2 categories: info we need and info we would like to have (and why).
- Different tiers of usage Instead of asking for blanket permissions, create different tiers of usage for different levels of consent e.g. Facebook privacy settings.
Rationale (Why we should care about intersection of UX and the law)
The space where UX and legal services meet is an area with much room for exploration.
For UX practitioners:
- Boundaries Knowing where the boundaries are not only keeps you safe, but allows you to experiment with things you wouldn’t otherwise know you could do.
- Credibility and trust Whether dealing with clients or customers, an awareness of the legal landscape gives you more credibility in negotiations. Making the effort to empower users with an understanding of their rights in T&Cs could also be a way to create trust and confidence in your product/service.
- Insurance Being aware of what you can/cannot do places you in a better position to manage risks before they manifest.
- Project management In some cases, T&Cs in contracts could be used as project management tools. A project proposal outlining the framework (e.g. background, intent, scope, actions required, deliverables and milestones) could be attached as an appendix to a main contract. Besides helping to keep the main contract simple, the proposal could be used to monitor deliverables, timelines, and risk.
For legal practitioners:
- The push towards better UX There is a push towards making legal knowledge more accessible and user-friendly coming from outside the legal profession. With more startups trying to tackle legal problems, it?s a signal for lawyers to engage in conversations about UX.
- Using UX research methods Spend a few days with an individual or a whole department at their workplace. Observing what people do (instead of what they tell us they do) gives us a better understanding of the actual risks that they face. These insights could then be embedded into contracts, company policies and used to provide functional legal training.
Contractual issues need not be as complicated or confusing to laypersons as they often are. To create more positive experiences, T&Cs have to be approached with the users and not just the business in mind.
It is also worthwhile for UX practitioners to have some understanding of legal issues within the context of specific domains/industries.
If you have access to legal counsel, whether it?s your company?s in-house lawyer or your old friend from school, don?t be shy about asking them to explain things in plain language. Starting these conversations may open doors to new ways of thinking about law and UX.
(Credit to Ruth, Wei, Wen and Zhimin for all the thoughts captured in this article. Special thanks to Ruth and Wei for the comments on the initial draft.)
Interested in exploring more of this space? Here are some links for you:
I read all the small print on the internet and it made me want to die
Visual law: What lawyers need to learn from information designers
Open law lab: a hub for legal design
UX podcast: James & Per accept your terms and conditions