From design thinking to a #Newschallenge idea

One major stream of my work during my time as a fellow has been around this question: How we can make interfaces on top of the law that make it more usable and engaging to normal people with legal problems? In the workshops and classes I've run, I repeatedly come across the same insights around what non-lawyers want when it comes to the law, whether it's in estate-planning, immigration, bankruptcy, or eviction law.

Legal Navigator Map research findings - how people use the internet for legal info

The insights, combined with the constant flow of users coming to my visualizations of law for help, led me to put together a concept design for Legal Navigator Maps, which I'm submitting to the Knight News Challenge.

The Knight Foundation, Mozilla, and Ford Foundation are sponsoring this year's challenge, with the following brief:

This is an open call for ideas. We want to discover projects that make the Internet better. We believe that access to information is key to vibrant and successful communities, and we want the Internet to remain an open, equitable platform for free expression, commerce and learning. We want an Internet that fuels innovation through the creation and sharing of ideas...

So we want to know what you think-- what captures your imagination when you think about the Internet as a place for free expression and innovation? In June we will award $2.75 million, including $250,000 from the Ford Foundation, to support the most compelling ideas.

My idea submission is Legal Navigator Maps. The concept was generated and vetted using processes. Design thinking was useful in generating a number of wild ideas and then testing them with different types of users at several different workshops and classes.  Then, I refined it on my own, taking all of the group work and feedback to get to insights, then spending time by myself trying to boil the wild down into the feasible. Now, my hope is that this project can take off from concept to live product, as a new model for legal products that normal people would love to use. We're currently soliciting comments and feedback on our submission over on the News Challenge platform.

Here's the description of the project I submitted to the challenge:

Legal Navigator Maps is an online platform of visual, reliable, legal guides for people scouring the web for information on their problem. It offers a collection of interactive, nested flowcharts of how a person can navigate a legal process -- whether it be applying for a visa, filing for bankruptcy, or resolving a traffic ticket.

It also provides an easy way for legal experts to communicate their legal expertise. Rather than producing a text pamphlet about the law, the expert can generate an elegant, compelling guide and share it with the Internet, with minimal tech or design knowledge.

The Problem We're Solving

When a person has a legal problem, often she turns to the Internet.

She'll scour forums and articles for any information to help her understand what her situation is. She'll try to get smart & strategic, searching for what options she has to resolve her problem. And she'll try to find some reliable advice to get confident about what choices to make.

The problem is, the Internet doesn't help her. It has unreliable, casual advice on forums, or reliable but amazingly dense legal texts. There's a few sites with readable and practical articles about common legal problems. But there's no place for a normal person with a legal problem to get in control of their situation -- and the Internet's jumble of information can make her feel more lost, confused, & disempowered.

Legal Navigator Users

Our Solution

That's why we're building Legal Navigator Maps, to provide interactive and graphic wayfinders to help people who are stressed & worried about their legal situation. Our research has shown consistently that people searching for legal information (1) want visual resources rather than text ones, (2) they want to get an overview of the process in a quick and easy way, and (3) they want to see all the possible pathways that are open to them.

We've designed Legal Navigator Maps to fit this need, and also tap into the expertise of lawyers and legal aid providers who want to communicate legal guidance but are searching for easy-to-use and well-designed alternatives to text pamphlets. These experts do not have the financial or technical resources to create visual or online guides, so Legal Navigator Maps is designed to make the process of creating a visual guide as simple as possible.

Our solution aims to bring these two users together to benefit both -- and ultimately to create a better Internet, with an engaging & trustworthy legal resource.

One of our concept designs for the project, that we're using to test right now:

Legal Navigator Maps - Concept Design of a user experience flow

You can browse other entries to the Challenge, and there are over 650 to peruse and comment on!