Thanks for the thoughtful response John! I think we agree on a couple things:

  • legal language isn’t completely nonsensical and does serve a purpose for lawyers
  • the efforts by companies like Pinterest are not entirely successful
  • this stuff is a hard design challenge and is in no way an easy fix

My biggest issue with all of this is that the status quo would be fine if we weren’t asking non-lawyer people to accept these terms as though they understand them and then hold them to what they’ve accepted. I would go so far as to say that I would advocate for courts to judge on the side of users — even when they’re violating the letter of the law in legal terms — unless companies can demonstrate that the terms were written and presented in a way that an average customer could understand. If you don’t know what you’re consenting to, I don’t consider it valid consent.

Until courts start to do this (and some of them are leaning in this direction particularly in European countries), companies are not incentivized to take on the hard challenge of humanizing their legal language. In fact, they’re probably incentivized to keep things hard to understand because in many cases, if people understood what they were agreeing to, they would never click “Yes”.

I don’t expect those of us who work in design to be able to solve this in one fell swoop, but I’d love to see more people talking about it and taking responsibility for it.

Writer and reader. Director of UX for Store Management at Shopify. Formerly designed with words at Facebook. Based in Toronto.

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