16 November 2002

Design for Democracy

Misleading ads, voter intimidation, malfunctioning and confusing ballots... problems continue to plague U.S. elections. And designers are starting to step up.

Design for Democracy is an non-profit organization in Illinois . It’s mission is to:

“Improve the informational and physical systems involved in the American voting experience through education and user-centered research, evaluation, strategic design, and implementation, in order to support an environment in which every voter counts.”

vote!From the about page:

“The team is national. Our focus is local. We approach election issues with a unique perspective: as designers. To do that we have specialists in graphic design, industrial design, interface design, Web site development, anthropology, and usability, all of whom understand the human factors in the voting.

We are objective and independent, and we are valued for our ability to consider all possible solutions without preference to a particular technology, ideology or organization. Our commitment is to the public good and we adhere to standards and practices that preserve our client-focused point of view. Our recommendations and the materials we create will be based on meeting election code requirements and understanding what will be easily implementable by those who operate elections.

Design for Democracy... is not aligned or associated with any corporations, organizations or entities that advocate a specific voting product or service.

Design for Democracy works directly with election officials in both large and small jurisdictions to maximize their resources and achieve specific goals.

For large jurisdictions, we can comprehensively study singular issues and determine areas for improvement in processes, procedures and materials. Then we can apply our knowledge and experience to recommend and implement those improvements.

With smaller jurisdictions, we can apply proven strategies and solutions, including templates that can be easily adapted to a particular need. These templates have already been used successfully in two Cook County, Illinois elections.”

Affiliated organizations include the Industrial Designers Society of America, the American Institute of Graphic Artists, the Usability Professionals Association, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Thus far they’re primarily active in Chicago, with a project in Oregon. After a proposed redesign of Chicago’s butterfly ballot, the group then worked to change the Illinois Election Code to implement the redesign and legally allow the use of lowercase letters in candidate names. Student projects include the design of a more universally accessible voting booth and a more efficient document handling system.

Also, the nod to “user-centered research” in the mission statement refers mainly to field research and documentation rather than actual participation by voters and poll workers in the design process. At minimum, the usability professionals should be able to incorporate user feedback and testing into the process rather than just at the initial data gathering phase.

Once the voting process is redesigned, a hard look at how design can facilitate public participation in other processes (such as candidate making, ballot initiatives, campaign financing, city planning, etc.) would be much welcome.

Otherwise, this seems like a good first step towards engaging designers in civic affairs.

A follow up to this brief blog item on ballot design from May 2002.