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Making Good Legal Design the Law

Margaret Hagan, Jan 13, 2022

We have been talking and working on the importance of the justice system’s user experience — as have many others in other public interest sectors.

We have been talking and working on the importance of the justice system’s user experience — as have many others in other public interest sectors.

These civic services should be usable, useful, and engaging. It should be easy for all different types of people to find their options for courts, benefits, taxes, government documents, and other key government tasks. The processes should be as simple as possible, with the fewest time and money burdens, and with an emphasis on a supportive, dignified experience.

Now we are seeing these goals become legal mandates.

The White House issued an Executive Order in December 2021 setting out explicit rules about good design of federal government services. It sets out human-centered design as an official obligation for federal agencies.

Here’s a quote of their policy intent with this order:

“ The Federal Government must design and deliver services in a manner that people of all abilities can navigate. We must use technology to modernize Government and implement services that are simple to use, accessible, equitable, protective, transparent, and responsive for all people of the United States.”

It also uses the UX-oriented concept of administrative burdens to set out metrics. The order requires that these agencies be measuring the quality of the design and user experience.

“It is the policy of the United States that, in a Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, improving service delivery and customer experience should be fundamental priorities. The Government’s performance must be measured empirically and by on-the-ground results for the people of the United States, especially for their experiences with services delivered.”

The Order sets out staffing, agenda-setting, and other required actions to make these policy goals real. In some in cases, the Order calls out specific websites, services, and forms/applications that need good civic design overhauls. It mandates that government staff centralize and simplify processes, and then create more user-friendly platforms and tools so that people can find and use them.

One other possible legal design policy is happening in New York City. (Hat tip to a colleague at the Racial Justice office of the city for alerting me to this).

The NYC Racial Justice Commission has some Ballot Proposals for 2022 — one of which (Proposal 2) would establish a Racial Equity Office in the City. Part of this office would include a mandate for good civic design, language access design, and overall human-centered service design.

Proposed policies to add to the NYC Charter, that would make good civic design law

These proposals are linking racial equity with good design. It’s baking in key design principles of empathetic, non-paternalistic respect for community members — and a commitment to inclusion through better government design. If passed, this Citywide Access Design project would be a leader in ensuring that diverse community members can access the government services they need.

Do you have other examples of government agencies recognizing the importance of good legal and civic design? And how it was established as a law, rule, or policy? Please share!

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