What you see is what you understand: Using visuals in contracts

By Rose Wilson February 19, 201519 February 2015

An image is worth a thousand words.

What you see is what you understand: Using visuals in contracts

Photo credit: Stefania Passera/Aalto University

There’s a lot to be said for presentation. When explanatory diagrams and visuals are added to contracts, it makes them easier to understand and more user-friendly, even for lawyers. This was the finding of a 2014 study by a PhD candidate at Aalto University School of Science in Helsinki. Studying an international group of participants – representing 24 countries and including contract and commercial managers, negotiators, lawyers and supply chain professionals – Stefania Passera compared the use of text-only contracts with those that incorporated visuals like graphs and charts.

Based on the study, here are the top benefits of contracts with visuals:

1. They increase comprehension accuracy and speed

Visual displays had a positive effect on comprehension. On average, participants using the visual version of the contract could answer more questions correctly and more quickly.

2. They provide a better user experience

While no one expects a legal contract to be an easy read, those using the visual contracts encountered less difficulty than they anticipated. Contracts with visuals were found to be more pleasant and useful.

3. They work for all cognitive styles

While everybody has a unique cognitive learning or thinking style, all participants generally preferred contracts with visuals. Results of the study showed that even lawyers do better with a visual contract.

4. They are preferred by both English native and non-native speakers

Visual contracts can help non-native speakers understand a contract as accurately as native speakers. English being the lingua franca of international business, supporting it with visuals helps both sides.

5. They improve business relationships

Clients will prefer contracts with visual elements over traditional textual contracts, and they’re more likely to think about them in a positive way. Positive experiences bring clients back to lawyers and customers back to lawyers’ clients, so it’s a win-win-win situation.

Passera’s report on this study, using visuals to explain the statisics [PDF], is available online.

You can see some examples of visual elements here [PDF] in a report on automation.

Cheryl Stephens is co-presenter of the Modern Contract Drafting Program.
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