For decades, words have been lawyers’ tools of trade. However, some pioneers have already gone beyond text in legal design. In Central Europe, visualizing legal information has developed into a research field in its own right. In the German-speaking countries, terms such as legal visualization (Rechtsvisualisierung), visual legal communication (Visuelle Rechtskommunikation), and visual law (Visuelles Recht) have been used to describe this field of growing research and practice.

Colette R. Brunschwig is one of the early pioneers in this emerging field. See, for instance, On Visual Law: Visual Legal Communication Practices and Their Scholarly Exploration in Zeichen und Zauber des Rechts: Festschrift für Friedrich Lachmayer, Erich Schweighofer et al. (Eds.), 2014.

A convincing example of visualizing the law is the work of the Street Vendor Project. After noting that the New York City Code was “intimidating and hard to understand by anyone, let alone someone whose first language isn’t English” the Project collaborated with the Center for Urban Pedagogy and Candy Chang, a designer, urban planner and artist, to produce a visual Street Vendor Guide called “Vendor Power!” that makes city regulations and rights accessible and understandable. The Guide “decodes the rules and regulations for New York’s 10,000 street vendors so they can understand their rights, avoid fines, and earn an honest living”.

In Canada, recognizing the need for new ways to inspire public access to the law, the Government commissioned a White Paper in 2000 proposing a new format for legislation. The White Paper, Toward a new format for Canadian legislation – Using graphic design principles and methods to improve public access to the law by David Berman also introduced the concept of using diagrams to help describe laws. In the process of creating a flow chart diagram Berman’s team discovered inconsistencies that were not accounted for in the legislation, suggesting that if rendering laws into diagrams was part of the process of drafting, the resulting legislation would in some instances be substantively improved.

For more information, see Helena Haapio’s and Stefania Passera’s blog post Visual Law: What Lawyers Need to Learn from Information Designers in a VoxPopuLII blog of Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute.