Building Momentum for Bail Reform – a Creative Design Challenge

A puzzling question: where on a Saturday morning might you find 35 creative professionals – designers, artists, writers, technologists, and more – donating their time and expertise to help generate support for bail reform in Ontario?

The answer: why, of course, you’ll find them squeezed into a conference room at the Law Society of Ontario!

On Saturday February 1st, a diverse group of creatives – armed with coffee, muffins, flipcharts, sticky notes, and sharpies – excitedly dove into a 6-hour design sprint to find new ways to create enthusiasm for bail reform.

A collage of photographs documenting the February 1st Creative Design Challenge. The photos show: a room full of participants seated at large tables; printed posters and pamphlets created for participants; a diverse group of participants engaging in a lively discussion.

Participants hard at work at the February 1st Creative Design Challenge on Bail Reform. [Click to see a larger version of this image.]

A colourful poster with the heading “A Creative Challenge for Social Good.” The poster text reads as follows: How might we turn the case for bail reform into an interactive and educational experience? We’re trying to create excitement about bail reform by changing the way it's presented to the legal community and the broader public. So we’re inviting all creatives of all types - artists, designers, writers, technologists - to help us take on this challenge. Join us Saturday February 1st, 2020 for a Creative Design Challenge in Toronto at the Law Society of Ontario.

Our event poster shared on social media to attract applications from creatives. [Click to see a larger version of this image.]

The Law & Design CoLab’s fourth project, “Building Momentum for Bail Reform”, exemplifies our mission to use design and digital media to improve access to justice by making legal advocacy and education radically more impactful.

The Creative Design Challenge on February 1st was this project’s half-way point and represented the culmination of three months’ work by our team of volunteers – a collection of lawyers, UX/service designers, graphic designers, marketing strategists, and more who share a passion for using creative design for social good.

What is the Law & Design CoLab? 

To help break through Canada’s access to justice crisis, we believe that the legal nonprofit sector needs to adopt bold new ways of using digital media and technology to exponentially grow their impact and drive cultural change across the justice sector.

The Law & Design CoLab (the “CoLab”) is a volunteer-led nonprofit based in Toronto and Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. We convene skilled professionals in technology, design, and digital media to work alongside legal experts and community stakeholders. Together, we conceive, scope, build and test new digital products and experiences to make legal education and advocacy more impactful. You can learn more here about how the CoLab selects projects, engages stakeholders, and recruits volunteers.

The Action Group on Access to Justice (“TAG”) established by the Law Society of Ontario played a key role in the creation of the CoLab in 2018 by graciously facilitating introductions to the nonprofit legal community. TAG has remained instrumental to our success through its role as a core collaborator and convener.

Why Bail Reform?

Ontario’s bail system has long suffered from delays, high costs, bad outcomes, and the erosion of foundational legal principles. While recent Supreme Court decisions and federal legislation[1] signal an emerging shift in the culture and practice of bail in Ontario, the momentum generated by these changes must be built upon and sustained.

At this juncture in Ontario’s story of bail reform, the CoLab identified an opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration, i.e. how might design, digital media, and marketing help build momentum for widely-agreed-upon reforms.[2]

Progress to Date

We began in October 2019 with a literature review, system mapping exercise, and design brief. We then conducted off-the-record interviews with leading academics, defence counsel, duty counsel, community legal clinics, and other expert stakeholders.

We synthesized our research into a concise and compelling Creative Brief which served as the key plank of our social media campaign to attract applications from talented creatives for our Creative Design Challenge. From a field of over 80 applicants, we selected 35 participants on criteria including level of experience, quality of portfolio, personal connection to the issues, and ensuring a balance of skill sets among participants.

On the day of the Creative Design Challenge, we were joined by a complement of four experts on bail and two creative leaders from a world-class ad agency who helped engage and inspire the participants.

All our workshop materials, including the day’s agenda, a media collage, stakeholder posters, and more, are shared online.

A collage of four images showing content we produced for the Creative Design Challenge. The images are: 1.A document with title “Creative Brief” and a logo having prison bars and the words “Bail System Reforms” 2. A 20-year timeline with flags pin-pointing important events/publications related to bail reform. 3. A collage of news media clippings related to bail with the title “In the Media” 4. A multicoloured, complex flow chart with boxes and arrows illustrating the stages of the bail process and roles of key stakeholders at each stage.

Some of the content we produced for the Creative Design Challenge. [Click to see a larger version of this image.]

After a day of learning and exploration, participants presented a wide range of compelling concepts which have already opened many exciting pathways for further development. Some common themes included:

  • Experiential design: an art installation that helps users better understand the process/experience of being on remand
  • Interactive products: data visualizations or a “choose your own adventure”-style narrative
  • Storytelling: a video documentary series of true-to-life stories
  • Marketing tactics to provoke and engage: a series of “missing person” posters that highlight unfair bail decisions or unfair conditions of release
A collage of four images documenting some of the concepts presented at the Creative Design Challenge. The four images are: 1. A mock-up of a movie poster showing a woman behind bars and the title “Killing Time” 2. A rough sketch of a data visualization showing the flow of people through the bail system 3.A mock-up of a website called “Killing Time” with a logo of an hourglass (commonly used by desktop computer programs when asking users to wait) 4. A sketch of a poster with the words “End the Waiting - Sign the Petition” and a logo of an hourglass with a strike through it.

Some of the concepts that emerged from the Creative Design Challenge. [Click to see a larger version of this image.]

What’s Next?

Over the next few weeks, the CoLab team will explore these ideas further, collect feedback from stakeholders and scope opportunities for executing one or more concepts.

The CoLab’s plan for 2020 includes developing/testing two prototypes of digital legal information products and scoping/launching two media campaigns.

With increased awareness and support for our work from the legal community, we hope to increase the number of projects we can deliver each year. You can support us by:

  • Sharing our work with your friends and colleagues
  • Following us on social media via Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Facebook
  • Sharing an interesting project idea with us
  • Providing in-kind or financial support
  • Volunteering your professional expertise on a project


[1] R. v. Antic in 2017 and An Act to amend the Criminal Code (former Bill C-75) in 2019.

[2] Webster 2016 at 55 describes the broad consensus on needed reforms: [C]ultural change is no small undertaking … [A]ny effective solutions will… be part of a multifactorial, long-term approach… [I]solated changes will have little effect without altering the mentality of the criminal process more broadly… [T]he construction of a framework of general principles… [and] the development of explicit guidelines… may likely need to be defined from ‘above’ while the actual… [while] strategies for [implementation are] negotiated at a more local level.


  1. Inspiring. Keep up the good work.