When I first started my journey to contracts in just 500 words, I focused mostly on content. Simple balanced effective content. I worked with an information designer who added some visuals, structure and design. I didn’t want my samples to look like walls of text!

Together we had the beginnings of each of the four corners of better contracts.

Fairness or balance

A fairer contract – based on equity for the parties – and providing a fair reward helps you adapt to uncertainties and avoid disputes through stronger relationships.

How can you do this?

  • Redline your own contracts – what would you object to?
  • Create mutual processes and mutually acceptable terms – seek win-win
  • Adopt a fair middle ground – if you always compromise a term, why not start there?

Visuals and design

Visuals are not used to ‘prettify’ legal documents but to clarify and communicate more effectively. Good visuals improve readability and understanding.

How can you do this?

  • Turn processes into flowcharts – it helps you understand where the dead-ends are
  • Add consistent icons to make it easier to help users search content more quickly
  • Use diagrams, tables, or timelines where relevant.

Simple content

Simplifying your contracts can better reflect your business’ brand/values and focus the users attention on key issues. Simpler contracts reassure users and enhance trust.

How can you do this?

  • Adopt conversational or plain language – focus on users
  • Adopt FAQ-style headings eg ‘how can we use confidential information?’
  • Put guidance notes next to relevant clauses.

Structure and usability

Frankly, all the visuals, balance and simple content are no good if your contract cannot be used. Structure makes your contract easier to use, accessible, and data easy to find. It improves accessibility and encourages strategic (skim) reading.

How can you do this?

  • Use a ‘term sheet’ – this summarises key contract data; it normally sits at the front of your contract and uses a table
  • Split the obligations between parties and use columns (swim lanes) to show who does what
  • Divide content into user topics rather than legal themes.

Searching for inspiration?

The World CC Contracting Principles provide guidelines on 18 aspects of drafting and negotiating contracts. They also publish the Ten Pitfalls to Avoid in Contracting.

You can also get inspiration in the Contract Design Pattern Library with its wealth of resources to help you design better contract documents, by offering solutions to tackle some of its most typical problems – in terms of content, balance, fairness, and design. Poor usability and understandability undermine the implementation of even the fairest, most balanced, legally sound, and transaction-adequate contract.

What should you do?

Easy: Start the conversation in your business about how contracts should be tools to help you do business, not barriers to business.

Middling: Take just one of these tips and apply it to the next contract you create.

Harder: If you’re inspired, take one contract and apply all 4 elements and get feedback on what everyone involved in contracts really thinks about the new version.

Star performer: If your contracts already meet these four corners of excellence, you can apply for the World CC Better Contract Mark.

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