contracts

Use more white space; consider columns

Whether it’s a set­tle­ment agree­ment in PDF, a com­mer­cial lease on paper, or a terms-of-ser­vice agree­ment on a web­site, con­tracts are a diverse class of doc­u­ments. There­fore, my typo­graphic advice is more a prin­ci­ple than a pre­scrip­tion.

Let’s move past the self-serv­ing myth that typog­ra­phy in con­tracts doesn’t mat­ter because peo­ple must read them. Wrong. As I said in why does typography matter, read­ers are always look­ing for the exit. So the most we can say is that peo­ple are sup­posed to read con­tracts. As writ­ers, we can encour­age them. But can we force them? No way.

In fact, it would be wiser for drafters to assume that most con­tracts go unread. Why? Because no one wants to read a con­tract. And most con­tracts are poorly designed. There­fore, it doesn’t mat­ter that peo­ple must read them. At best, they’re read­ing oppor­tunis­ti­cally. At worst, not at all.

For instance, the other day, a cer­tain music ser­vice made me promise that I had read their 20,551-word con­tract—3,276 in all caps —before I could buy a $1.29 song. What do you think I actu­ally did? Right. What would you do? The same thing. And every­one else? They’re no dif­fer­ent.

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