Designing our Terms and Privacy Policy

Posted by Chris

Limbo Illustration - Stylized Version of Terms of Service

Terms pages are some of the most neglected spaces on the web. This makes sense, as companies rarely have an incentive for you to actually read them.

With Limbo though, we wanted to spend time to make them actually good, and we hope others will find something worthwhile to borrow from it. We wanted to take care here for a few reasons:

  1. For a new company like us, brand perception is really important. We intend to be thoughtful in everything we do to earn a trustworthy brand perception, and one way of showing that is with well-considered design in every corner.
  2. It fits our ethos as a duo. We’re a bit of an odd pair to start a company. We’re very user centric and have strong moral compasses, and are not enormously profit driven. This is one more way to show our care for the humans using Limbo.
  3. Moving toward transparency once a company grows is much harder than maintaining it. Decisions like this are more easily made early on. We’d like to build that good foundation from day one rather than have to go through much more pain to introduce it later.

The result of this thinking is our current Terms and Privacy Policies, which I am very proud of. We were grateful to be able to use Wordpress’ terms and privacy policy as the base of our documents, which are clearly written as far as legalese goes and are licensed under a Creative Commons Sharealike license. Thank you Automattic!

I wanted to share a few ways we put time into our documents that I’d love to see in more terms:

1. Use Readable Type

Terms pages are notoriously unreadable. Take a look at Facebook’s for example. We tried to make Limbo’s terms more accessible to readers in a few ways:

We use shorter line lengths for better readability. Optimal readability for long form content is often found to be about 60-75 characters per line. Legal language typically has a terrible trait of trying to pack as much copy on a printed page as possible - but on the web, there’s no concept of a printed page. Use the room!

We avoid ALL CAPS in body text. In legal documents, there is sometimes a requirement for text to be “conspicuous”. This is why you often see TEXT IN ALL CAPS: This section is deemed to be important, and all caps has become the de facto conspicuous demarcation. Folks much more knowledgeable than I have concluded that this is mostly unnecessary and is probably a holdover from typewriters.

We use a contrasting background color and border to keep things legible while also calling them out. In our print version, we also bold the type in the case of a grayscale printing without backgrounds.

Screenshot of Conspicuous Text in Limbo's Terms

Studies have shown that all-caps is much harder to read:

Perhaps one of the most far-reaching conclusions Drs. Tinker and Paterson reached involved the use of capitalization. Contrary to what many people might think, the use of all capital letters in a heading (“all caps”) actually dramatically decreases speed of reading as compared to sentence case letters. Sentence case refers to the types of letters you would normally see in a sentence such as this one. During repeated tests on adults, the studies indicated that the use of all caps lengthens the reading time by 9.5% to 19%. The average reader took about 12-13% more time to read all caps. That translates to 38 words/minute slower than using sentence case. Moreover, when the psychologists asked the participants for their opinion of legibility, 90% of the participants preferred lower case type.

(via Painting with Print: Incorporating Concepts of Typographic and Layout Design into the Text of Legal Writing Documents)

2. Human Summaries for Each Section

We wanted to provide folks who might have trouble reading the full text a step in the right direction. We took inspiration from 500px for our implementation, putting a nonbinding summary in the right rail for each section.

Screenshot of Human Summaries in Limbo's Terms

When drafting this, our lawyers informed us that there is some legal risk here as the concept has not yet been fully tested in court, so you’ll want to check with your lawyers before doing this. We felt that the risk for us was justified.

3. No Mandatory Arbitration Clause

Sometimes a good experience is in what’s not present. We felt very strongly in not including a mandatory arbitration clause in our terms.

If you’re not familiar, mandatory arbitration is used to remove the customer’s right to sue or join a class action lawsuit, and forces any dispute to be solved through arbitration by a third party. As you might guess, these disputes are much more often found in the company’s favor. Many companies use this, and we wish they wouldn’t, so we felt strongly about not adding one in ours.

The Consumerist has a great summary on how mandatory arbitration is anti-consumer.

4. Diffs & Changelogs

We haven’t had to make use of this yet, but we are strong advocates for changelogs or diffs for terms. Providing a clear set of changes for users allows them to see at a glance what all they may be subject to by using the service.

For example, reddit provides a diff of changes to their user agreement (and I would love if they publicized this more), and Google provides a changelog as well as diffs of their terms. When we make changes to our terms, we will be adding them.

While it might not be a common place to spend so much time for a tiny company like us, I’m glad we put the effort into making user friendly terms from day one. We hope the thoughtfulness shows through as you’re using Limbo.

Chris Dary

Chris is the CEO & Co-Founder of Limbo. He works on the Business, Product Design and designs and builds the back-end.

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