Legal Prototyping and Hacking with GDS


We recently worked with Government Digital Service (GDS) to help them redesign the legal contracts that define buyer/supplier relationships in the Digital Services Marketplace.

The starting point was a set of contracts that between them ran to over 88,000 words, many of those words in the form of dense legal jargon that made the contracts almost impenetrable to the users for whom they were intended. So, as part of its mission to put user needs first, GDS was keen to rethink this material in line with the wider changes to Digital Services.

There are precedents for bringing human-centred design principles to law, such as the work of Stefania Passera at Mind, and it’s a fascinating area. On one hand it’s an important reminder that design approaches can be applied pretty much anywhere; but it’s also interesting to see how those approaches need to be modified to suit very different contexts.

In the end, the project employed a mix of prototyping, document hacking and user research using structured teams that comprised designers, researchers, procurement specialists and legal people. These teams enabled us to deal with the specific challenges of each session, from creating prototypes of contracting journeys to hacking the full documentation. By running the sessions to combine prototypes and user research with existing material it was possible to ask the right questions and check our progress.

We were also lucky enough to be joined by Daphne Perry, who is part of Clarity International whose input was a vital part of the process, both during and after the workshops. More generally, the attention to detail of legal people during the sessions was absolutely essential; serious editing would have been impossible without them.

GDS still has a lot of work to do on designing legal documents that serve its ambition for Digital Services. Contracting that supports rather than hinders Agile, user-driven development is a major task in itself, but the real challenge in many service design projects is the degree of organisational transformation that’s required to deliver the intended change. Legal frameworks have the potential to be the biggest barrier to organisational change, but through co-design it’s possible to move forward in agreement rather than conflict. GDS’ user researchers also did a great job of emphasising the importance of the project.

It’s been great to work with such a diverse group of people and a reminder of why design can’t exist as an isolated function. For an insider’s view of the project check out this blog post by Warren Smith who initiated and led the project for GDS.

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