Frequently Asked Questions
What do you mean by "design patterns"?
A design pattern is, to put it very simply, a repeatable solution to a commonly occurring problem. Design patterns and libraries to collect them are widely used tools, for example, in software engineering and user interface design. Practitioners from those fields collect best-practice solutions emerging as robust from repeated use. In the beginning, these solutions may not even have names: people just copy from each other what seems to work well. But by collecting, naming, and describing them, plus showing examples, it is possible to systematize and share knowledge, creating a more universal language for experts, novices, and stakeholders and collaborators from different disciplines to work together.
Can I just take the examples from the Library and reuse them in my contracts? Are they copyrighted materials?
You can borrow and adapt the concept shown in the example, but you cannot just copy-paste the images or texts as is. Firstly, they are copyrighted materials: you cannot copy and do whatever you wish with them without asking permission first from the copyright owners. Secondly, it would not be a good idea in any case: your contracts need to reflect your brand, your visual guidelines, your language and tone of voice, and the specifics of your business.
Getting inspiration from others is always good, but just copying and taking without permission never is.
I love the idea of contract design patterns, but my organization still needs support to get started! How can IACCM help?
We are happy that you want to get started on your simplification journey! IACCM can support you by helping you assess your simplification needs, and linking you with contract design experts and facilitating pilot projects. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Which tools can I use to implement contract design patterns?
Although design software like Illustrator and InDesign comes in handy, it is possible to apply most of these patterns by using common software from the Office suite.
Language-oriented and structure-oriented patterns (e.g. navigation, organizing, and tone of voice patterns) are technology-agnostic: whatever your tools, you can implement them.
Layouts and some emphasis patterns can be implemented in Word, just by investing a bit of time on creating suitable text styles and using tables to create multiple columns for the content (e.g. clause summaries pattern)
Many visuals can be created in PowerPoint by anyone with some computer literacy: while the mechanics of implementing a visual can be mastered (just disregard any "stylistic" suggestion PowerPoint makes, like having shadows and gradients everywhere!), the more challenging part is to decide what the diagram is about, how to organize the information in a clear manner, and what details to include and what not. The simplest way to get started is to sketch on paper, iterating and refining the idea before touching your computer: the clearer the concept, the easier to use software to achieve your goal.
If you still need practical help with creating a visual in PowerPoint or a layout in Word, just google it (it's not a joke). The web is full of good tutorials about every conceivable topic, and you may even find half-ready modifiable document or diagram templates that could fit your needs.
Why aren't there ready-made templates in the Library?
We know that you would just love a ready-made solution and a quick fix, but sorry, that’s not the way design works. Design is, at its core, a method for problem-solving in context. We give you good models for approaching problems, but you need to add your own contextual knowledge and goals to the mix to create meaningful solutions. Giving you ready-made templates without a good understanding of when to use them would just amplify the problem of copy-pasting dysfunctional contract language, rather than solving it. Design can be a superpower: you need to use it responsibly.
Why aren't there resources for drafting contract content right? Isn't content part of contract design?
Content is a crucial part of contract design, but it is just not the primary focus of this library. Moreover, IACCM has parallel projects and resources to help its members achieve speed to contract, balance and fairness in their terms: Contract Benchmarking, Contracting Principles, and Contract Standards. As for drafting, there are many valid contract drafting manuals, style guides, and plain language resources out there that you can use in combination with design patterns – no need to reinvent the wheel!
Do I need to become a designer or hire designers in our legal department?
Working with an experienced information designer or involving someone from your design, customer experience and marketing department is a great idea, but it is not a must. An even better idea is to try these techniques by yourself and understand when a certain design pattern can be used. You may not be the person who will ultimately implement the final design (or maybe you will!), but you need to be able, at least, to create rough prototypes to communicate your ideas to the designers and enlist their practical help. Showing is better than telling!
Who are "contract readers"?
Contracts are read by different groups of people with different backgrounds. If you just assume that they are just for lawyer-to-lawyer or lawyer-to-judge communication, and just consider their needs, you risk alienating everyone else. Contract readers of a B2B contract are, for example, sales and purchase managers, project managers, technical experts and product owners, executives, personnel from HR and finance departments, and other subject-matter experts. B2G contract readers include also civil servants. Consumer and employment contracts may be read by such diverse people at once that you may have to consider how to make them understandable across literacy levels, native languages, learning styles, and neurological differences.
Are images in contracts legally sound? How would a court interpret them?
This Library does not seek to predict what a court will do.
Some lawyers are enthusiastic and have already implemented images in their contracts. Others prefer text-only contracts and “tested” language, meaning tested in court. They worry about the newness of the idea, the enforceability of the non-conventional contracts, and the chance of misinterpretation, for example.
Images can be misleading and hard to interpret – just like text. But they can also be well thought-out and well prepared. Moreover, the images you may create by following a pattern approach are not intended to be used as stand-alone images: they are intended to complement text. And often, you will create and edit such visuals with your counterparty during negotiations. When the text and images are clear and say what the parties intend them to say, a solid foundation exists for the contract to be read, understood, and acted upon and for the parties to reach their business objectives. When this happens, there is no need to ask a judge to interpret the contract afterwards. If images help make it easier for people to do what their contracts expect them to, we have reached one of our main goals: to prevent disputes from arising. A former Chief Justice of Australia, Robert French, recently stated that as long as the meaning of the pictures in contracts is clear, then, of course, they are binding.
For those who seek “tested” precedent, to our knowledge, there are no court-tested visualized contracts. There are no form books for contract images, either. Court cases and research around the interpretation of emojis and emoticons teach us that courts are indeed able to handle and interpret images and symbols, even if these are novel or unfamiliar (see here and here, for example). For other types of visuals, Prof. Jay Mitchell’s detailed analysis suggests that “contract and evidence law foundations for use of visuals in contracts are firmer than one might expect.”