Image by Twisted Tail

Talking common sense, taking risks and sarcasm in law with DBS head of Legal & Compliance, Chee Kin Lam

Three years ago, a lawyer and a UX designer walked into a bar, and a totally work-appropriate long-term relationship evolved between UX design, content design and L&C.

So when we started work on a new mega-project, one of our senior content designers Rjwritestoyou decided to take things to the next level.

Over the last two years, RJ has been working with Chenghao Wu from Chee Kin’s team. So far, together they have simplified over 200 notices and terms.

The project is still ongoing, but we decided it’s a good time to get together, discuss and define the relationship.

“You know he’s not actually a lawyer?”

…was the first thing that Chee Kin said to us when we walked into his office on a sunny Monday morning. He was referring to Chenghao (who was not there to defend himself, being on holiday in Taiwan).

It seemed to RJ and me that this opening didn’t bode well for us. Were we in trouble? As so often happens, we were wrong. It turns out that Chee Kin was making a point about the changing roles and responsibilities of L&C.

Don’t get too attached to your job description. If you do, both you and it won’t last.

You don’t always need a lawyer to draft terms. And it isn’t just UX and content designers who can simplify the user experience.

Chenghao is not a lawyer (let us clarify that he’s a respectable auditor before strange rumours start flying around), nor is he a UX or content designer, yet he has helped us to simplify both our user experience and our T&Cs.

“We are increasingly seeing that non-lawyers can realise simplicity and accuracy of communication with some immersion in law and UX design. Plain English skills coupled with legals skills is a powerful combination. So, no, you don’t always need a lawyer to draft terms,” stated Chee Kin.

You’d imagine that nothing could be further from UX and content design than law, but, in fact, professionals in both fields care about words.

Words matter.

We often work with Chee Kin’s team to review content that isn’t actually legally binding, such as onboarding content. Let’s look at an example…

Here the goal is to manage the reputational risk for both DBS and the partner. The customer has to be clear that their relationship is with DBS, e.g., if they want to sue someone, they need to sue us and not our partner.

And not just that. In this example, using the wrong word could expose our customers’ data, as our partner may claim that they have a right to it.

Another example is our approach to simplifying notices and T&Cs. We often extract and summarise the keys points for our customers on the review screen.

None of this is legally binding. None of this is really Chenghao’s job. Except that it is because his boss Chee Kin says it is. Because he believes that it is everyone’s job to improve the customer experience. And he has hired like-minded customer-obsessed people.

How common is common sense?

When we are simplifying terms (or anything else really), we need to assume some common sense and shared context on the part of the reader. Otherwise, we would need to put a notice on everything, for example,

“Please wipe yourself after doing a number 2” in toilets.

Without common sense, our user interfaces would be cluttered with multiple instances of “I hereby agree…”. Fortunately, in Singapore law, there is a lot of common sense and also judges with a scathing sense of humour. Just see this delightful comment from a High Court judge:

“The plaintiff describes herself as ‘a full-time social media influencer, actress, model and host’. She maintains an Instagram account that she claims has 41,400 followers. That, I suppose, entitles her, in her estimation, to be a celebrity.”

Humorous judges aside, where do we draw the line and assume that some person using our product has the same kind of common sense as us?

For example, is it bizarre or necessary to put notices on Starbucks and McDonalds cups stating that the beverage inside is hot?

We must also take into account accessibility and inclusivity. For example, the type of content needed by an elderly user is very different from that needed by a digitally savvy user.

There is no simple answer to this, but our relationship with Chee Kin’s amazing team empowers us to try things together.

“We are willing to — and do — take the risk of being misunderstood for the benefit of the user experience and the simplicity of the journey,” noted Chee Kin.

Have you heard of “unequal bargaining power”? We hadn’t. But basically it means that if we contradict ourselves and the customer relies on the incorrect information, that can be legally binding. For example, if we say one thing on an onboarding screen but another in our T&Cs.

That’s one way the law protects consumers. The party with the greater knowledge (hence, better bargaining power), in this case DBS, has the responsibility to be clear.

It’s time to define the relationship

Whose job is it to simplify the user experience? Who owns the words you see on the screen? Everyone and no one. It’s a partnership.

We’re like that weird couple who seem to have nothing in common on the surface but secretly love nude yoga and owl cafes.

Words matter.

With love,

Content design ❤️ Legal & Compliance

A lawyer and a content designer have their second date was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.