Finalist 2023

Victoria Legal Aid Self-Help Tools - Digital Design

Portable / Legal Aid Victoria

Transforming access to justice through innovative self-help tools which provide critical support services and operational efficiency at Victoria Legal Aid.

Portable collaborated with Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) to transform legal aid accessibility through digital self-help tools.

These tools, designed and integrated into the VLA and Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) websites, are built to demystify the legal system for people with varying degrees of legal literacy, specifically seeking to support the victims of family violence or those in high-risk scenarios.

This innovative, human-centred solution not only simplifies legal navigation but also increases operational efficiency within VLA.

Design Brief:

Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) sought Portable’s expertise to facilitate a digital transformation that would make legal aid more accessible to the public, particularly individuals experiencing family violence. This digital accessibility was to be achieved through ‘decision-tree style’ self-help tools integrated into VLA's website. These tools would need to be designed within the existing Drupal-supported Single Digital Presence (SDP) framework and follow the design requirements of the VLA brand.

Moreover, the tools intended to reduce VLA staff time spent responding to basic information requests, allowing them to focus on supporting complex legal scenarios for those in need of these services.

The overarching objective was to help users understand their legal situation and outline actionable steps, bridging the gap between legal jargon and layman's understanding. The success of the project was dependent on creating a human-centred, intuitive interface that could be replicated for other legal scenarios in the future.


This project was developed by:

Design Process

Our design process started with a comprehensive review of the SDP framework that Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) and Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) websites were built on. The goal was to determine how we could adapt it to facilitate the integration of self-help tools. We realised that while there were existing components that supported self-help, they were insufficient for the more complex tools needed.

We assembled a team of user experience (UX) designers and experience-design (XD) researchers with expertise in Justice who worked closely with VLA's content teams to reformulate the existing tools to fit the new format. The XD team adeptly used the extensive SDP design system and component library to create new components that were in line with the existing SDP language and VLA style guides.

Our development team was tasked with architecting a deliverable which was compatible with the Drupal-based CMS, with the first use case focusing on the Screening Triage & Referral Tool (START). The tool was designed with a generic content model to guide future self-help tools, taking into account potential future uses and features.

We also prioritised meeting the needs of the most vulnerable groups, collaborating with VLA's lived experience team to run a workshop with people experiencing family violence. This human-centred approach was instrumental in the successful execution and completion of the design that not only met but exceeded the original brief.

This demonstrates our adherence to a professional design process where the project was executed to high standards, incorporating the needs of those seeking support, and successfully addressing the initial design brief.

Design Excellence

Our design focused on the principles of good design: functionality, accessibility, aesthetics, quality, and sustainability. The resulting self-help tools are highly functional, providing users with a clear path to relevant legal information. This is particularly important for the VLA, which aims to support individuals, especially those with minimal experience with the legal system.

In terms of accessibility, the design caters to a wide array of users, particularly focusing on the most vulnerable ones, like individuals experiencing family violence. To ensure the tool effectively met their needs, we worked with the lived experience team to gather direct input and feedback.

Aesthetically, our design seamlessly integrates with the existing VLA style guides and the Single Digital Presence (SDP) language, maintaining consistency and user comfort. The quality of the design is high, evident from the successful implementation and acceptance by the VLA, and its alignment with their user-centred online strategy.

Sustainability in this digital context lies in the flexibility and adaptability of our design. The content model we created can be applied to a broad range of legal problem types and future self-help tools. This adaptability provides a sustainable design solution that can evolve with changing user needs and legal scenarios.

The integration of these principles into our design not only sets a benchmark for design excellence in Victoria but extends beyond, showcasing how design can bridge the gap between complex legal systems and everyday individuals. It embodies a user-centred, adaptable design that meets the needs of today while being flexible enough to cater to the needs of tomorrow, on a local and international scale.

Design Innovation

This project was a confluence of innovation through human-centred design. At its core, it aimed to solve a profound problem: simplifying and demystifying legal information for individuals with no legal experience, especially for those facing family violence.

The innovative approach lies in the use of a decision-tree style self-help tool, providing an intuitive pathway through the complex maze of legal information. This innovative design enables users to navigate the system in a more personalised manner, improving access to the right legal information and assistance.

In addition to the unique decision-tree model, the project produced a ground-breaking generic content model. This model is designed to fit multiple legal problem types, bringing scalability and adaptability to the solution. It extends the innovative nature of this project beyond the initial use case, providing a versatile framework for the creation of future self-help tools.

At each step of the design process, user needs were prioritised. By working closely with the lived experience team, the design effectively encapsulated the unique needs and circumstances of individuals facing various legal situations. This resulted in a truly human-centred design, an innovative way to make the complex legal world more understandable and accessible.

The combination of these elements represents a remarkable innovation in the legal aid space, not just in Victoria, but as a precedent for similar initiatives worldwide.

Design Impact

The impact of this project is transformative, with benefits spanning individuals, the VLA team, and the legal system as a whole. By making legal information and assistance accessible and personalised, it supports individuals in navigating their legal challenges. This can reduce the emotional stress associated with complex legal issues and can help users make more informed decisions about their circumstances.

For Victoria Legal Aid, the self-help tools allow legal staff to dedicate more time to complex legal situations, as they spend less time responding to requests for basic information. This translates to a more efficient use of resources, and by extension, a better functioning legal system.

In a societal context, the design facilitates more equitable access to legal information, making a crucial contribution towards the democratisation of the legal system. Its particular focus on the START tool for family violence situations exemplifies this, offering tangible support to one of society’s most vulnerable groups.

From an environmental perspective, digitalising legal assistance reduces paper waste, aligning with principles of a Circular Economy. In terms of economic benefits, efficient resource allocation can result in financial savings for VLA and the government.

At a broader level, this project enhances Victoria’s reputation as a hub of design and innovation. The co-created content model and self-help tools stand as exemplars of user-centred design, setting a high benchmark for future projects.

By showcasing the value of professional design in tackling complex problems, this project fosters greater appreciation for design in Victoria, Australia, and internationally. It underscores the potential of design to generate positive change, demonstrating the power of investing in a professional design process.

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