Five Mistakes to Avoid When Building Legal Apps

With the recent boom in legal tech and online collaboration, more and more lawyers are looking to build their own legal technology applications to help consumers and other lawyers better access the judicial system or more efficiently accomplish tasks. However, designing complex legal applications that are effective and user-friendly is no easy task.

When building legal apps, it’s important to keep your users in mind. The best apps are those that make it clear to users what is happening and how they should be interacting with the app at all times. While many design errors tend to be domain-specific, a number of common UI mistakes plague apps across all industries. Here are five of the most common design errors to avoid when designing your next legal product:

1. Putting “Delete” and Affirmative Actions Too Close To Each Other.

Too many apps place affirmative actions like “Save” right next to destructive actions like “Delete.” While this may initially seem to make logical sense, since both actions dictate the outcome of an item, it makes it too easy to click the wrong action, causing significant problems for your users. Users are often in a rush, and you don’t want an unintentional slip lead to potentially dire consequences. Even when the delete button is appropriately placed, you should always request confirmation twice.

2. Insufficient User Feedback.

An important focus in UI design is telling your users how a particular click or action on the interface causes activity on the screen. Too many apps fail to keep their users informed of what the system is currently doing or what actions are in progress. When your app is silent, users will be left to guess what’s happening, and often that leads them to start randomly clicking on targets they shouldn’t be clicking, or thinking your app is broken. Progress indicators, particularly when information is saving or processes are taking longer to complete, are critical to user understanding. A great example is the Gusto pig – this quirky animation not only entertains users, it also helps them understand that they need to wait for the system to move on to the next step.

3. Forgetting to Label Icons.

While you may think the meaning behind your icons is intuitive, your users might not. Think of the traditional “Save” button. This has historically been a floppy disk, but not all your users actually know what a floppy disk is. Younger users only came to associate the icon with the save function because it had a “Save” label. If confusion can occur with icons that are nearly universal, it’s even more likely if your application includes unique, unlabeled icons. Your users should always know what they’re clicking and why, and the only way to ensure that is with clear text labels.

4. Including Tiny, Unclickable Targets.

For users to successfully use your app, they must be able to tell what targets they can click on and actually be able to easily click on them. Too many app interfaces include targets that are difficult to identify or access. Tiny targets that are too hard to find and click on will leave your users frustrated and more likely to abandon your app altogether. This is the same concept as the Norman Door – when a design is so poor that users can’t figure out how to perform a basic function, it will just lead to confusion.

5. Too Many Modal Screens.

Many apps incorporate modal windows that appear on top of the main app page and dim the background content when performing certain actions, such as editing, adding, or deleting items. While modal windows are meant to reduce distraction, having too many of them can instead block users from seeing the context they need to complete the action. By taking away the ability to copy, cut, and paste, or even refer to relevant information, modal windows may reduce the usability of your app and dissuade users from using it. So use them wisely.

The key to a successful app is designing a user interface that is both enjoyable and user-centered, particularly when you’re creating client-facing applications like those used for intake tools. By avoiding the five design mistakes outlined above, your legal app will be easier to use and will deliver more value to your target users.

About the Author

Dorna Moini is the founder of Documate, a no-code software platform that helps you build legal applications to automate documents, conduct intake, and collaborate with clients. Contact her on Twitter @dorna_moini.

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