Human Interface Design in the Law

Fantastic essay by Tim Wu (with whom I do not often find common ground) on the importance of “human interface design” in the law:

The Affordable Care Act is a good example of the complexity problem. Yes, it was an important policy achievement, and yes, many of its problems can be rightly blamed on industry resistance and Republican efforts to dismantle it.

But the act is also exceptionally hard to understand and discouragingly daunting to make use of. An emphasis on “choice” and “transparency” resulted in a law that only a rational-choice theorist could love. The act made health insurance more complicated, not less, which is one reason that such a high percentage of medical bills go to paying administrative costs, and why the Affordable Care Act is much less popular than it could be.

The Democrats’ Complexity Problem

I am a bit disappointed in the partisan framing; it’s unnecessary. Progressives and Democrats aren’t the only policy makers with this problem. And the problem can be rightly framed as a fundamental lack of respect for the public:

But policy experts are rarely good at interface design, for we have a bad habit of assuming that people have unlimited time and attention and that to respect them means offering complete transparency and a multiplicity of choices. Real respect for the public involves appreciating what the public actually wants and needs. The reality is that most Americans are short on time and attention and already swamped by millions of daily tasks and decisions. They would prefer that the government solve problems for them — not create more work for them.

The public is entitled to demand that policy makers do the extra work of making laws understandable and decisions simple.