The design entered a court and redesigned the architecture of the documents of a dispute that reached the appeal. With the help of magistrates and lawyers

This project does not have a name, and it is not an object that can be touched. It doesn't follow the ordinary rules of design narration, but it is certainly design. We are talking about an interactive act.

Which is not the name of a performance, but exactly what it says: the collection of thousands of pages that constitute the procedural documents of a dispute that reached the Court of Appeal, made more usable by a work on thearchitecture of the informationwhich, in effect, does nothing other than use digital and its most obvious tools. Yet it is one of those projects that makes you breathe a sigh of relief, because it does what a design project should do: improve life.

The beginning

In 2020 the WST law firm is preparing for a case in the Court of Appeal. A dispute between workers and management of a company that went belly up due to bad management, leaving a lot of disorder in relations with its employees.

When you decide to continue to the Court of Appeal, you think you are right, unless you are a fan of courtrooms.

WST, in the person of the lawyer Giusi Lamicela, however, realizes that the amount of texts and information, memory of the long-standing procedural process, It is difficult to consult, to say the least. And he becomes convinced that something can be done, in what can be imagined as a micro act of good rebellion against the custom of jurisprudence.

The project brief

Quo.d is a strategic communications and consultancy agency founded by Giorgio Ferrari in 2015. Niccolò Parini defines himself as its "guardian": an ironic way to explain a multifunctional role. The lawyer Lamicela contacts him to ask for help in reorganizing the procedural documentation. That is, he asks something that is obvious for anyone born after 1970.

Having a well-organised digital text with hyperlinks that help navigation in the confusing waters of the various procedural levels.

Confused because they are currently spread across hundreds of PDF pages which are in fact photos of paper documents. You cannot help but feel a vague smell of dust in your nostrils and the mumbling voice of any judge cursing the effort of orienting yourself, of understanding, of going back to the decisions made by colleagues and tracing back to the legal lemmas that motivate them. An arduous effort, but a good effort because it supports the work of justice.

UX research

Niccolò Parini and Qu.Od say yes, they accept the assignment. Which has as its first step a UX investigation. Go to the Court of Milan and ask for the collaboration of the magistrates to have them explain how they consult the procedural documents, why and in what way. Niccolò Parini, 26 years old, arms himself with the recklessness of enthusiasts and succeeds. The magistrates collaborate. He understands what needs to be understood and returns to the working table with an idea.

Metaphor as a design tool

Niccolò Parini: “I had never heard of legal design. There is very little online and it mainly concerns B2C projects, i.e. commercial contracts between companies and customers. We found nothing about other stakeholders in the legal system.

The only design reference was the direct experience of the magistrates, collected after explaining that our idea was to help, to make their work easier.

The questions asked are obvious: what do they look for in the documents, how do they consult them, what type of information do they look for at each stage of the hearing. My approach was therefore strategic and directed at designing the information architecture so that it is usable and adequate.

I started from a metaphor: the museum visit. I worked in museums, an experience that frustrated my need to have a more complete and understandable experience of art.

I picked up the notes again, observed my criticisms, the reflections on the critical issues. Lack of connection, the impossibility of accessing the stratification of relationships between artists and artists, between artists and historical context. And from there I started. Reading procedural documents within a personal metaphor and decontextualized helped."

The project

Niccolò Parini quotes Alessandro Baricco to explain that there are some sectors that have an extreme need for small innovations, even if the level of complexity seems to call for large structural interventions. It is actually better to proceed in small steps to "overcome the resistance of friction, smoothing it out in favor of greater aerodynamics".

First small gesture: the documents become horizontal, to have more space and greater structural clarity. And to insert links, textual references, buttons that facilitate instinctive orientation in the procedural building which is in fact built in different eras, often very distant in time.

Second small gesture: redesign the information architecture with more readable graphics, with easily identifiable hypertexts that lead to information necessary to reconstruct the legal time line.

Third small gesture: teamwork with WST to lead to an understandable hierarchy of contents and various consequential levels and clarify the genesis of the various procedural decisions.

The UX test

With a prototype in hand you can scale the world, according to an easy design metaphor. But the first UX test with the magistrates has a discouraging outcome. Some parts of the digital document interface are too complex.

So we go back to working on small relevant details and the second prototype works: it is usable, simple as simple as a similar document can be, it facilitates the judge's work, it makes the information clear. The project is finished and delivered to WST in February 2023. In September the sentence: the Court of Appeal judge overturned the decision of all previous procedural levels.

And now?

Niccolò Parini repeats it over and over again: there is no reason to think that it would have gone differently without the interactive act. Facilitating the work of document analysis does not mean changing sentences. But it certainly means increasing the speed of the court's work and facilitating it. Therefore Parini hopes to make the first interactive act project scalable, to spread a model so that it becomes at least an alternative to the traditional system. This is what design is for, after all. To create alternatives of use and behavior which then, sometimes, become habit. It's called innovation.

Small side note: Niccolò Parini is not a designer, or at least that's what he claims.

 

Cover ph: United States Courthouse, Salt Lake City ph Scott Francis