The question of how to visualize legal data in a more understandable and accessible way has been on my mind for a while. In June I had the opportunity to explore this question more in depth. I ended up creating a design and art installation with the objective of letting people explore the topic of rule of law. This article will showcase the project and discuss the development process.

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Project Title: What is law? (Baby don’t hurt me)
Exhibited at: Acud Studio, Berlin 2019
Brief description: This project sheds light on justice systems around the world by visualizing the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index. It lets viewers reflect on (rule of) law in an accessible way.

The Dataset

I used the Rule of Law Index by the World Justice Project as the dataset for this design installation. Rule of law is a difficult topic to explain to anyone, but it is also one of the most interesting legal concepts in my opinion. Rule of law is the essence of a justice system. People might not think about it every day but the threads of this invisible system do affect their daily lives. I thought there was potential to visualize the index in a more relatable way so that people could get a better grasp of the importance of this topic.

The Rule of Law Index by the World Justice Project measures how the rule of law is experienced and perceived around the world. The World Justice Project uses four principles as their working definition of the rule of law, namely: accountability of both the government as well as private actors under the law, just laws, open government and accessible & impartial dispute resolution. These principles are measured by the World Justice Project by sending out surveys to both households as well as experts.

The outcome of the questionnaire is molded into numeric values. After normalizing these scores the final rankings are produced. The index runs from 0 to 1 with 0 being a country with the weakest and 1 being a country with the strongest adherence to the rule of law.

Rule of Law

It is hard to describe the rule of law in just a couple of sentences. As I knew that the audience would mostly be composed of non-legal scholars, I needed a phrase through which people could immediately understand the concept. I decided to describe the Rule of Law Index as an index that measures ‘the health of the justice system’. I wanted to visualize this in a way to make the impact of rule of law understandable for everyone.

Numbers on a screen can be clinical. It makes the rule of law feel like something that is far removed from the personal lives of people even if the opposite is true. Not only the concept, but also the index is an important part of the narrative on the kind of society that people live in. These numbers should therefore not be clinical. They should evoke feelings on the justice system.

The Design Installation

I decided to do this by using the court dress as my canvas for visualizing the data as it is one of the most recognizable symbols of justice. I wanted to create a court dress that was larger than life to emphasize the disconnect that some people feel towards the justice system. I hand sewed 100 LEDs into this robe. This number correlates to the Rule of Law Index.

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The 100 LEDs were connected to an Arduino which on its turn was connected to my computer. The computer ran a program and a user-interface that allowed viewers to click on a country. If a user would click on a country a number of LEDs would light up. This number of LEDs corresponds with the index number of a country. Users that would visit the exhibit could click on any country and see the index visualized in the lights on the court dress.

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For example, if someone clicked on the Netherlands, which has an overall Rule of Law Index of 0.84, 84 out of 100 lights would light up. If someone clicked on El Salvador which has an overall score of 0.48, 48 out of the 100 LEDS would light up on the court dress.

This design installation created a new way to experience the Rule of Law Index, or as described to the audience of the exhibition, ‘the health of the justice system’. The reactions of the audience were exactly what I intended. People felt sad to see how some countries fared and curious to compare countries with each other. The design installation made it easier for the audience to see the differences between the justice systems visually.

This video is a recording of the design installation ‘What is law? (Baby don’t hurt me)’. Berlin, 2019.

Reflecting on Rule of Law

I also created a case book with the title of this project. Inside the case book there were all sorts of notes and knick-knacks that law interns usually use. There were also forms in the casebook that audience members could fill out with questions about what law is according to them. I added this part to the installation to make sure that the audience members had the opportunity to reflect on the data visuals.

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Some of my favorite answers:

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Development Process in Pictures

The idea and title for this installation is something that was on my mind before I started working on this project. I received a scholarship from the School of Machines, Making and Make Believe to attend their data & society summer program where I had the opportunity to create this project. The court dress is hand sewn and so are the LEDs that are integrated into the dress. To make the dress larger than life I built a metal suit out of metal mesh that surrounds the mannequin. The LEDs are connected to an Arduino. The coding and the user-interface were created in Processing.

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Here is a closer look at the user interface. I created a drop down menu with all the countries. A country that had been clicked on is colored red. The user interface also displayed the index number which was useful for countries that had a small difference in numbers. This way the audience did not get confused when it seemed the lights remained almost the same even though another country was chosen through the drop down menu.

Here are a couple of pictures that I took throughout the process.

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Interested in Displaying this installation?

If you are interested in displaying this installation at your gallery, firm, court house, organisation or any other place then contact me here or find me on twitter @ noraalhaider

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