A couple of years ago, I examined the state of software privacy and terms as part of my Master’s thesis. Long story short: things didn’t look so good. Terms are meant to be read, but they’re presented in a way that makes reading difficult. I used Apple as an example in my research, but my conclusions are applicable universally: put the same amount of consideration into the terms as you would any other user-facing element.
We have compendiums of typographic, human-computer interaction, and design best practice at our disposal. For some reason, this body of knowledge never finds its way over to legal documents. Having transitioned from theory to practice, I can see the balance between wanting to serve the user and the need to protect the vendor from litigation.
Thankfully, MailChimp’s content strategist, Kate Kiefer-Lee, and Valerie Danin, our attorney, were willing to work toward a solution that satisfied everyone (and hopefully that includes our users). As we developed the various legal documents for MailChimp, TinyLetter, and Mandrill, I set four overarching UX goals to guide us:
Avoiding the trappings of typical legalese, we don't capitalize entire paragraphs; we set our type large enough to be read comfortably; and we imposed hierarchy by generously spacing paragraphs and using bullets and numerals.
Use plain(ish) language
We wrote the terms as if they were meant for other humans to read.
Chunk the content
By organizing the content into intuitive groupings, we imposed hierarchy on the legal documents. The reader is able to refer back to specific sections, rather than searching through an entire body of text. It’s one of those things that doesn’t add much at first glance, but becomes very handy when a task, such as determining who owns your content, is at hand. [You own your content, of course.]
Split content across multiple pages
In the end, I think we transitioned a suite of documents that looked unreadable into something inviting and accessible. I realize that only a small number of visitors to any website read the Terms. Now, however, we’ve considered that small number and improved the experience.