Plea Bargain Cover Photo

What is a Plea Bargain?

Educating the public about a plea bargain

The design challenge for the Information Visualization class taught by Professor Karen Cheng was to create an interactive one-page long scrolling website that visualizes the information and data of a chosen topic. My partner Angelica and I chose the topic of court processing because we wish to raise the public awareness about delays in the court system nationwide. For example, the delays in the Bronx criminal court system not only undermines the justice system but also negatively impacts the victims and the families psychologically. Kalief Browder, a young man who jailed for years without a trial, killed himself on June 6th, 2015. He was 22 years old.

Angelica and I were not familiar with the court system and criminal law. Thus, we had to study intensively how the criminal court system works by gathering and utilizing the library resources and the secondary online research materials. We also spoke to Molly Cohan, a Supervising Attorney and Law Lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law. We explored issues such as court processing delays, the origins of racism/classicism in the criminal court system and their repercussions, and the difference between Native American criminal jurisdiction and the U.S. government's justice system in order to get a broader understanding of the justice system.

Kalief Browder

Crafting the story of Court Delays

We tried to demonstrate the seriousness of delays in court by crafting a story around a hypothetic scenario whereby readers are charged for a crime that they did not commit, with the goal of bringing them through the different paths they can take, all in an effort to develop an empathy for those who have to go through a similar tedious process due to the court delays. From our research, we found that the median time to go to a jury trial is much longer (464 days), compared to plead guilty which takes 188 days at the district court level. Out of those who enter the criminal court system, a whopping 89% of people plead guilty, causing many to accept plea deals and potentially forfeit their innocence in order to avoid the longer and exhausting process of jury trials.

We gathered data from various official sources such as and in order to convey the message of slow case processing times—which we later found is a trend nationwide. We also investigated factors that lead to court delays, such as budget cuts for judicial funding—which consequently affect court employment and service reductions—and laid out possible solutions to fix the system.

Molly Fan

Starting Over

Two weeks before the project was due, we started to finalize our infographic project. We met with Mary D. Fan, the Henry M. Jackson Professor of Law in order to get her input and feedback for final validation of our infographic story. Professor Fan's feedback made us realize that although court processing delays is a problem that exists, it happens most likely in the Supreme Court setting for solving breaking news such as the Bronx and Baltimore event in the nation. Incomparable, the backlogs are not that severe in the general municipal courts.

Professor Fan further suggested us to focus on explaining plea bargain, which is also part of the judicial process. Plea bargains are misunderstood. Due to TV shows and other forms of media, many people believe criminal court cases go to trial, but in reality most cases end in plea deals. The plea bargain is controversial, but it is essential in the jurisdiction process. We were running out of time, but we scratched our project and started in a new direction because we thought a plea bargain is definitely a more interesting aspect in the court process that is worth exploring and educating the public about.

Marker Scratch

How should we explain to readers about a plea bargain?

A plea bargain is a complex and controversial topic. We are trying to focus on explaining to readers about a plea bargain through information visualization and storytelling, without oversimplifying the issue. We lay out different sections of the plea bargain topic by questioning ourselves the Five Ws and one H (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How), and finding patterns within a large set of information and data that we have studied, therefore enabling the public to grasp a basic understanding of plea bargains.

Web 1
Web 2 Mac Book

Iconography and Illustrations

Icons and illustrations are really critical in conveying the story about plea bargaining visually. We approached this visual direction because we felt that due to the restrictive access and sensitive information during court cases, the photos we found online were not able to convey our story accurately.

Iconography in a way, does not quite depict the story compared to real photos as well, but the visual images and symbols can be used throughout the website to convey our story consistently. Moreover, various metaphors are being brainstormed to complete the story through iconography. We hope that by leaving some space for imagination, we would not necessarily distract readers through visually disturbing real photos and images, and focus on the essence of the story and facts.

Basic geometric shapes such as circles, eclipses and curve lines are used in designing the icons and illustrations, with the same width of strokes throughout the icon sets.

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Iconography Iconography Color Palette Typography

Visit the website

My Role

Validating and Visualizing data

User Research Process

I conducted the research by accessing online public database and reading books to have a deep understanding about the plea bargain topic. By talking to professionals in the law field and getting feedback from them, I helped my team to validate the information that we have visualized to avoid misleading content to the readers that might cause confusion.

Crafting the Story


The one-page long infographic website is the requirement for the final output for the project. Therefore, having a fluid and logical flow for the narrative of the website became a critical part of the project. Angelica and I worked on multiple iterations of the website just to craft an infographic narrative to effectively communicate the story. From crafting the title and subtitles, highlighting insights, providing context for data and presenting a sound conclusion, I contributed my part to work on both data points and visual hierarchy that strongly weave the plea bargain story together.

Web Design and Development

Web Design and Development

I developed the visual guidelines for the website to serve as a guide for us during the web design process. After working side by side with Angelica from sketching, wireframing till finalizing the final layout of the website, I started coding the website using the Bootstrap framework.

Final Thoughts

It opens my eyes to work on "What is a Plea Bargain" project because it did not come to my realization before that we designers can use our superpower to educate the public about a topic that they might not be aware of, yet it is an important issue to know. I become more exposed to social, moral and cultural design issues and be mindful of my role being a designer to create positive social change.

I would like to thank Angelica for her support and her courage to continue tackling the challenge when we were told to switch to a new direction during the final phase of the project, which happened a week before when our project is due. I appreciate her being a good partner despite stressful working condition due to time constraint.



Angelica Cupat


Professor Karen Cheng

Project Duration

10 weeks

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