Designing a user-friendly trademark policy for some of the world’s most recognizable marks

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Legal documents are intended to be precise and comprehensive. Unfortunately, they’re often not very accessible. Lawyers are used to communicating with other lawyers with jargon that is well-defined in law, but can often be difficult for others to understand. This complicated language is particularly problematic with online policies that are intended for audiences of varying ages and nationalities. To make matters worse, legal documents often have large chunks of fine print, which are difficult to read on a computer screen (not to mention, on a phone!).

The Wikimedia Foundation is looking to break this pattern with a new trademark policy by using plain language and borrowing visualization techniques from information design. Information design focuses on improving user experience to effectively communicate information using images, color coding, typography, and white space.

We are currently preparing a draft trademark policy based on input from Wikimedia community members in an effort to develop a document that truly reflects the values of the Wikimedia community. Our goal with the new policy is to make it easy for community members to use the Wikimedia marks. In addition to making the policy more permissive, the WMF legal team is looking to make it clear and intuitive. The policy should be straightforward and easy for anyone to navigate when looking to use a Wikimedia mark.

One way the legal team has sought to make the trademark policy more accessible is by applying various readability indices to determine the reading level needed to understand the text. The legal team tried to avoid legalese and strived to use short sentences and simple words. The current draft only requires a reading level of an average 12 or 13 year old. Lowering the readability score of the text will make it simpler to translate and, therefore, more accessible to international audiences.

Another way the legal team has tried to make the policy more accessible is by developing a user-friendly summary. The summary highlights the most important points in the policy and directs users to relevant portions of the text for additional information. This summary, along with the improved readability and translatability, should make the draft much more accessible and ultimately usable.

The team is also looking for alternative ways to communicate the information in the policy to reinforce the text. A few weeks ago, we partnered with legal information researchers Stefania Passera, Helena Haapio, and Margaret Hagan to organize a two-part Legal Design Jam at Stanford Institute of Design and the Embassy Network. The goal of these sessions was to brainstorm about how to make our trademark policy more user-friendly using colors, visuals and various information design methods. We brought together two groups of professionals and students with law, design, computer science and policy backgrounds to work on this problem.

Both legal design sessions began with a presentation by Stefania Passera regarding different information design techniques that can improve the usability of legal documents. Yana Welinder, who is leading the trademarks work and the policy update in the legal team, then presented the trademark policy draft. She focused on community interests that drive the document to make sure that the legal design participants appreciated the importance and practicality of the document. The draft was divided into sections and reviewed in groups of four to five participants. Each group spent time discussing a portion of the draft, highlighting the key concepts and thinking about how those concepts should be visualized effectively.

In the first session, the legal design participants identified that the user-friendly summary contained a complicated list of trademark uses that could be broken down into three main categories. The WMF legal team wanted to emphasize the ease with which we hope community members will be able to use the trademarks under the new policy. At the same time, the trademark policy should be clear when uses require a trademark license. The legal design participants chose to represent the different trademark uses in the summary with the traffic light colors that commonly indicate go (green), caution (yellow) and stop (red). Using this color scheme, we developed a shorter summary to indicate when trademark use does not require permission (green), when permission must be sought (yellow) and a few uses that are prohibited (red). We then used the same color-scheme in symbols throughout the policy to help readers navigate the document in the same way.

The legal design participants also introduced well-known symbols to visualize other sections of the policy. For example, a warning sign was chosen to represent reporting of trademark violations and a pen to represent future revisions to the policy. We are mindful that some symbols and colors may not have the same meaning worldwide. Which is why we hope that the international Wikimedia community will help us adopt globally meaningful symbols as they review and discuss the policy during the consultation period that will begin soon.

We are now wikifying the designs that were developed in the legal design sessions so that community members can discuss them on Meta-Wiki. Once that discussion opens, please join in and give your feedback about this work in the consultation on the policy draft. You can also leave your thoughts in comments on this blog in the meantime. What do you think about this process? Have we overlooked anything important? We look forward to getting the community’s feedback on this.

Yana Welinder, Legal Counsel, Wikimedia Foundation
Heather Walls, Communications Design Manager, Wikimedia Foundation


Archive notice: This is an archived post from, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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[…] The ideas developed at the Jam will be presented first to the Wikimedia community for feedback around mid November. For now, read Margaret’s summary of the lessons learnt at the Stanford Jam, and Yana’s thoughts about designing user-friendly legal documents . […]

[…] The ideas developed at the Jam will be presented first to the Wikimedia community for feedback around mid November. For now, read Margaret’s summary of the lessons learnt at the Stanford Jam, and Yana’s thoughts about designing user-friendly legal documents . […]

[…] Welinder, J.D., LL.M., and Heather Walls, both of the Wikimedia Foundation, have posted a report on last month’s legal design jams in northern California, entitled Designing a user-friendly trademark policy for some of the world’s most recognizable […]

[…] so that the design can help convey information. My colleague Heather Walls and I recently wrote a blog post about what we’re doing in that respect. Together with Stefania Passera, Helena Haapio, and […]

Thanks for doing this. I and my community need this policy so that we can host small community events with guidance on how to advertise ourselves as a grassroots community effort that complies with and sets a model for respect for trademark law.

Hi Lane, Thanks for your comment! We have really tried to design the draft policy around making this type of work easier for community members. We will release it shortly and I’d love to get your thoughts on whether the draft addresses your concerns.

[…] You can read more about the project here: > Margaret’s summary of the lessons learnt at the Stanford Jam > Yana’s thoughts about designing user-friendly legal documents […]

[…] You can read more about the project here: > Margaret’s summary of the lessons learnt at the Stanford Jam > Yana’s thoughts about designing user-friendly legal documents […]

[…] Image Credit: Wikimedia Blog […]

This is awesome! Thank you for sharing. I hope you keep spreading the word about the work you are doing.