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Bad design harms American democracy. The voting process should be approachable, equitable, trustworthy, and transparent. Today, it is too often stressful, slow-moving, and error-prone. When people make mistakes, their votes do not count. Good design – imaginative, thoughtful, well-tested, tools – can do much to improve the experience, increasing the chance that the system will capture a voter’s intent.
A voter, standing in the polling place, must navigate a thick and information-dense ballot. Probably there is a line of people waiting; probably the voter needs to leave to for work or school or back to a family. Elections are an infrequent event, and some voters will be new to this particular voting process.
Offer bold ideas
In this project, you will redesign parts of the voting process. Consider how people cast their votes. How will they read information and navigate. How will people add information? How will they confirm their decisions?
Your materials will be used by a wide range of people, with an array of intentions. Design for accessibility and high usability. Your users will include people with a range of reading levels, comfort and familiarity with technology, and patience and willingness to explore. Some people might have limited reading ability. Some people might want to ponder every vote, while others might just want to vote in the “top-of-ticket” contest (in 2012, the presidential race).
We will produce voter personas in class. Design against these personas – though you may add additional personas, if you wish.
Explain your design by creating documentation: prototypes, diagrams, charts, and text. Your documentation must stand alone.
- Create interactive pieces that work as part of a system.
- Experiment with ways of navigating complex information.
- Improve designs through iteration and through usability testing.
- Explain interactive projects using design documentation.
- Become familiar with DPS.
Work within today’s technologies and political system. You can imagine your own voting machine – no need to find specifications for real models. Use reasonable screen sizes and capabilities.
Situate your design in a DC-area jurisdiction of your choice. In some places, laws govern the typographic presentation of ballots, but for this project, assume that those laws can be changed freely. You will receive sample information to populate your ballots. For other kinds of material, use materials for your chosen jurisdiction.
Design in English, but provide a mechanism by which voters can choose another language. You do not need to design audio or large-print versions, although audio would be required for a real voting machine.
Write a one-paragraph brief for your project. What aspects of the voting system would you like to improve? What do you intend to achieve?
Email a proposed schedule of work by Friday 9 November.
3: Ballot design for an electronic voting machine
Create a ballot for an electronic voting machine. You can choose a touchscreen machine, one with a full-face membrane, or one with buttons and physical controls. You might present all of the ballot information at once, or you might move through the ballot sequentially.
Once you begin to develop the design, conduct usability testing, and use your findings to improve your ideas. Perform these tests using screen or paper prototypes. Test with at least three people who are not in the class.
Turn in, as part of your project booklet:
- High-fidelity prototypes of every screen
- A flowchart that describes movement through the ballot
- Diagrams that explain key parts of the system, with labels and narrative text
- Specifications that would let someone else duplicate your ballot (information like color, type, and image requirements)
- Narrative reports on usability testing, noting findings user-by-user
4: Another innovative component
Imagine some other interactive piece that might improve the voting experience. Design that piece, working through several iterations. You might choose polling-place layout and signage, workstations for elections officials, a multi-device vote-by-web ballot, a series of paper forms, a website that helps people find their polling place, or another piece that you define. How can design help people vote?
Your design can be less comprehensive than the electronic voting machine ballots; layouts for a few key screens (or the equivalent) would be enough. Again, be sure to explain your idea using prototypes, flowcharts, and diagrams with labels and descriptions.
5: Process/deliverable booklet
Present your work in the form of an electronic booklet. Include records of your design process, images of prototypes, and design documentation.
Deliver this booklet in two forms:
- An tablet publication, produced on DPS.
This should include a hyperlinked table of contents and simple navigation tools built for a touchscreen.Design for the iPad, in either a horizontal or a vertical layout.
- A PDF, which can be a static version of the DPS publication. Present your flowcharts and prototype screens in a vector format so that users can zoom in.
For reviews, you will need to be able to communicate your ideas in a form that people can view from a distance. Create a poster that explains key concepts and leading features of your system. This poster needs to do more than evoke feelings: it needs to convey information using diagrams, text, or illustrations. You can probably take parts of your design documentation and adapt them to a larger scale. The final poster should measure at least 18 × 36 in.
- Sample ballot (TXT)
- Richard Grefé and Jessica Friedman Hewitt in the New York Times: How Design Can Save Democracy (see also the interactive feature)
- Brennan Center: Better Ballots
- Verified Voting: Voting equipment
- Citizen Media Law Project legal guidelines on Documenting the vote 2012
- How secure is your electronic vote?
- Overvoting in NY, 2010
- AIGA Design for Democracy project: Ballot and polling place design guidelines (produced on behalf of US Election Assistance Commission)
- AIGA Design for Democracy project: Top ten election design guidelines
- Usability Professionals Association: Usability testing kit for local election officials
- Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent
Published 2012-11-04. Last updated 2012-12-10.