What If Terms of Service Were More Interesting?

    October 9, 2011

How often do you actually read Terms of Service agreements? Now, be honest. ☺ I have to admit that I don’t usually read them, for the sake of time, but I do sometimes wonder about what I’m agreeing to. It is a legal document, after all, and it should be taken with some seriousness.

Do you take Terms of Service documents seriously? Let us know.

Gregg Bernstein, a graphic designer, took this issue to heart and set out on a mission to improve TOS agreements. He admitted that it was “not a fascinating area at all,” but he felt that it was necessary. His work with designing CDs and packaging for bands and record companies got him interested in the area because he has to know what he can and can’t do with the various typefaces he uses.

Once he began looking into it, he said he realized how significant it was that other people understand what they’re agreeing to as well.

“It’s important that they understand what it is that they are purchasing and understand what they are or aren’t allowed to do,” he added.

Since this area had essentially become his niche, Bernstein decided to tackle Apple’s Terms of Service agreement for his master’s thesis. While those of us with Apple products know that its terms aren’t exactly captivating, taking on a brand such as Apple takes guts. However, Bernstein told us that he believes Apple’s terms should be just as intuitive and impressive as the Apple products that are on the market.

“When you buy an Apple product, everything about it is so considered,” he said. “Apple, of all vendors, should have a better designed agreement.”

In this effort, Bernstein worked with Robert Bartlett, who is a law professor, in order to trim the length of the terms down without losing the meaning. Bernstein told us it was challenging because they had to think about all the various screen sizes that people would be viewing the terms on, how to divide it up in a readable way, and also how to make the terms visually appealing while making accommodations for those who are visually impaired.

Despite these challenges, Bernstein was able to finish his project and create a new set of terms for Apple that is much more concise and readable.

Bernstein told us that he thinks it is a very real problem that companies aren’t taking the issue of Terms of Service seriously. He believes that usability and design should be key factors in legal agreements.

“I don’t think design ever enters the equation,” said Bernstein. “You have this blind spot where a company is focusing on a product, but then they’re also focusing on a legal issue, and for some reason, these areas just never combine.”

He went on to say that both consumers and companies would benefit from better terms since consumers would be more knowledgeable about what they could and couldn’t do and companies would be less likely to face litigation.

Bernstein sent his project to Apple and also reached out to some other tech companies that he made redesigns for but has yet to receive a response.

In addition, he took a shot at redesigning the IRS 1040 Form. Check out his before and after forms:

Is Bernstein onto something here? Do you think you would be more apt to read Terms of Service agreements if they looked better?