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It's Time we Showed T&Cs Some TLC

by Vishnu Kale

A brief introduction to T&Cs

T&Cs or “terms and conditions” (also called “terms of use” and “terms of service”) are legally binding contracts. Every service you use and everything you do online is governed by some T&Cs. While T&Cs are contracts, they work differently from the way traditional contracts do. You can’t sit down and negotiate T&Cs the way you would a traditional contract. Instead, T&Cs are usually presented in take it or leave it form. Since “leaving it” is not really an option for many of the online services and platforms we use today, we are forced to accept these contracts the way they are. This is problematic because T&Cs tend to be one-sided, favouring the companies that drafted them.

Why T&Cs should be designed better

The one-sidedness of T&Cs is made worse by the reality that the majority of people don’t read them. This is in part because the current design of T&Cs makes them difficult to access and go through. As we move more of our lives online and increasingly trust online services with critical areas such as our finances and health, our lack of awareness of our rights online becomes a cause for concern. Moreover, there have been instances where unhappy users have sued companies over their T&Cs.

To avoid such undesirable outcomes, the design of T&Cs should do a better job of educating users about important issues such as what their rights are, the kind of support they can count on from the service provider and the avenues they have to obtain redress if things go terribly wrong. Making it easy for users to access and understand such information will help them make better choices, adjust their behaviours around the service and create realistic expectations.

Below, I have shared a few examples of my own experience with T&Cs on my mobile and TV (yes, my TV!). Through these examples, I want to highlight current design deficiencies and also hope to inspire designs that improve the accessibility and readability of T&Cs.

Flixbus links to three separate T&Cs. Its T&Cs for booking and carriage and its privacy policy. The actual content of these T&Cs is hidden behind hyperlinks. When a user is booking a ticket, it is unreasonable to expect them to click on each hyperlink and read the jargon filled text of all documents. It's no wonder that consenting to T&Cs in such situations is referred to as “the biggest lie on the internet”.

While The Atlantic and Adidas do a better job of sharing in

formation up front, they’re too boring and text heavy to capture attention. In addition, the “agree” buttons on both pages are highlighted. The combined effect of these factors is that we’re tempted to agree and proceed before we’ve paused long enough to read and understand the content.

So how can we improve the design of T&Cs?

Well there’s no easy way to do it. As a starting point though, I think following these simple rules can help:

  1. Use plain English: It’s important that we keep the legalese to a minimum because the overwhelming majority of people who will read T&Cs are not lawyers;

  2. Be upfront with content: Don’t hide information behind a hyperlink, put it front and centre. The more hoops users have to jump through to access content, the less likely they are to do it;

  3. Don’t play favourites: Give the “agree”, “decline” and “manage preferences” buttons equal preference. A study has shown that people are more likely to consider their options when this is the case;

  4. Convey the essentials: Share information that’s most important from a user perspective, don’t overload them;

  5. Set aside the rest: Relegate the non-essentials to a hyperlink for those who may need it; and

  6. Make it interesting: Make the design engaging, don’t be afraid to use bold colours and visuals.

T&Cs can be adapted for larger screens as well. Consider how Amazon’s T&Cs are presented when accessed through a Fire Stick and viewed on a TV. The design fails to take into consideration that these terms are being accessed on a TV.

Firstly, scrolling through multiple screens of T&Cs with a TV remote is not intuitive. The T&Cs should present more information on each screen so that the need for such scrolling is minimized. Secondly, the design could have benefited from being more visual and less text heavy. This would have aided in the glanceability of information. In addition, the clever use of icons would have helped users locate the information they care about more easily.

The Key Takeaway

The key point here is that T&Cs should be optimised for accessibility and understanding. This requires us to take into account human behaviour and contextual factors such as the device on which T&Cs are being accessed. A significant amount of energy is spent on perfecting the content of T&Cs. If a small portion of that effort is put into redesigning them for a better experience, I am confident online legal awareness will greatly benefit.

Vishnu is a lawyer with an undergraduate degree from Gujarat National Law University and a master’s degree from the Bucerius Law School. He is the founder of Navya Legal Design and is passionate about innovation in the legal sector.

Artwork by Maulika K Hegde (Instagram: @curveandcurl)


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