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Compliance Design: Disrupting the Old Ways to Create Your Dream Program


In the world of compliance, for a long time, discussions have circled around the same topics, such as how to implement an effective compliance program, how to encourage employees to speak up, or how to make sure that policies and procedures are clearly understood and applied. Despite endless concerns regarding compliance programs, it would be pertinent to say there were no groundbreaking, sustainable solutions until legal and compliance practices met design thinking. To clearly understand what compliance design is, we should first define the term design thinking.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a human-centric methodology that aims to understand user needs and create effective solutions by redefining problems and challenging assumptions. It can include designing a product, service, experience, or business model for the end-user.[1]

One of the most common pitfalls of creating a compliance program is that it just ticks boxes but does not benefit the people obliged to comply with it. For example, a designer who is asked to design a vase will first address the vase’s purpose, the customer experience, why it needs to be a vase, rather than a bucket or a pot, and whether the vase is a centerpiece or simply a tool for experiencing the beauty of the flowers which will be placed in it. When a compliance program lacks this kind of thought process and mindset, companies end up with hundreds of pages that no one reads or complies with. Thus, we see design thinking as the missing puzzle piece that will stop compliance programs from being a waste of resources and time.

Why User Experience (UX) is Crucially Important for Compliance?

User experience (“UX”) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users.[2] When designing a process related to compliance, compliance officers need to fully understand that every company has its own culture and people, so adopting other companies’ documents or solutions won’t be the answer to your company’s problems. It is comparable to trying to open your door with someone else’s keys.

In order to build tailor-made solutions for your specific compliance challenges, there are a few steps to follow while using design thinking. Those steps include empathy to understand the mindset and feelings of the users, who can be employees, customers, or third parties. After assessing the case at hand, problems should be redefined according to the needs of the user. If a problem is clearly defined and addressed, ideating creative solutions will be much easier, helping your company to achieve effective results. Finally, ideas need to be tested in order to maintain any newly constructed ethical atmosphere.

Understanding the uniqueness of each experience is the game changer for your company’s compliance program since compliance awareness within a company differs according to the roles people play, such as top-level management or blue-collar workers. To close this gap when it comes to making sure that every level understands and adopts a company’s compliance program, plain language and clarity become an essential bridge for compliance design.

But what do we mean by that? A research study called "Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use," shows that on the average web page, users only read 20 percent of the words during an average visit.[3] From this, you could conclude that your target audience may not read 80 percent of your policies and procedures on your company website. So, your compliance program’s failure is inevitable.

Thus, compliance documents such as codes of conduct or privacy policies need to be re-created with simplified sentences and jargon-free wording. They should be designed to be understood with ease on the first reading. In order to achieve that, factors such as the education level, culture, age, and sex of your readers should be taken into consideration when drafting compliance documents.

Like plain language, visual communication is also a key component of compliance design. According to Stefania Passera’s doctoral dissertation[4], results from various contract types show that people understand visualized contracts more clearly and quickly. The findings also showed visualization of English contracts, especially improved contract comprehension among non-native English speakers. If you are dealing with foreign third parties, your compliance program’s communication language is likely to be English, and visual content can be really helpful to make sure that they understand your rules.

What Is the Relationship Between Legal Design and Compliance Design?

The popularity of the term ‘legal design’ has rapidly increased in recent years. In short, legal design is where law and design thinking meet. It includes redesigning contracts, the justice system, legal services, and tools. This brilliant concept for legal practice already has some great examples, such as Astrid Kohlmeier’s NDA design for Airbus, Stefanie Passera’s privacy policy design for Juro, Dot’s Influencer Agreement, and many more.

For some, compliance design is a subcategory of legal design. However, in our opinion, compliance design is a little out of the legal design box, since it mostly focuses on behavioral psychology and cognitive sciences, along with visual communication, information design, and service design. Compliance design is not only about helping people understand the rules but also making sure that people act accordingly and internalize ethical behaviors. As Brent Snyder says: “Compliance is a culture, not just a policy.” For this very reason, compliance professionals should invest in behavioral psychology to nudge human behavior toward doing the right things. Designing experiences and creating rituals that help employees feel safe and supported by using a compliance design approach can greatly increase ethical behaviors.

In order to achieve and maintain an ethical atmosphere, storytelling, gamification, or neurolinguistic programming can be used as tools to design compliance. What you are saying is important, but how you are saying it is what matters the most. Emotions are the fuel of the human brain if you want people to act in a certain way. When encouraging people to make ethical decisions and behave according to your company rules, choosing the words that make them engage with their emotions positively is important. This becomes crucial, especially when motivating employees to speak up.


At the heart of compliance programs are human behaviors and their effect on company operations. In order to maintain a healthy environment in a company’s ecosystem of stakeholders such as third parties, employees, or customers, putting the user experience under the spotlight is a must when designing any service, tool, or document related to a compliance program. Creating sustainable solutions should be at the top of a compliance officer’s to-do list. As companies become more and more human-centric and ethical, culture gains greater importance, and applying compliance design could be the innovation that you crave. In our next article, we will dive deeper to gain insight into how to implement the tools for compliance design.