You’ve seen it. Election time rolls around and the madness erupts. Endless debates, social media rants, both sides accusing the other of being close-minded. It’s divisive and polarizing and has turned your social media “friends” into people you don’t recognize. It’s far too overwhelming to sift through the biases and lies. You don’t know if you even want to be apart of it. “I don’t care who wins. Does my vote even make a difference?”
You’ve heard it. Maybe you’ve felt it.
A recent report released by Pew Research Center shows that for the first time ever, Millennial and GenX voters outnumber Baby Boomers and older voters. This gap will only widen in future elections as death and infirmity will steadily thin the ranks of older voters, while younger voters will continue to swell their share of the electorate. The problem: Millennials aren’t showing up to the polls.
Design a desktop application that engages millennial and coming-of-age voters to increase the voter turnout among younger generations.
Team and Role
My team consisted of fellow designers Eric Cottrell, Johnny Price, and Chris Hogan. We collaborated through the research phase and up through the user story mapping process. From there, I individually established the structure and designed the experience from lo-fidelity wireframes to hi-fidelity prototype.
I believe in adapting what is useful and not trying to recreate the wheel so I tapped into Jesse James Garrett’s expertise of UX. I love what he said in his book about the 5 planes: “to ensure that no aspect of the user’s experience with your site happens without your conscious, explicit intent.” I wanted to be intentional with each step in my process so this is how I used the 5 Planes of User Experience:
Step 1: Strategy
Making assumptions about why millennials aren’t voting was not a difficult task. For one, my team was made up entirely of millennials and two, people tend to be pretty vocal when it comes to politics so we had some easy assumptions from the get go. Here is a our list:
I really wanted to get out and find people to talk to because everyone has a unique story that shapes their actions and decisions. We split up and I hit the streets of downtown Salt Lake City to see if I could gather some insights from our user population.
Big questions that I wanted to know:
- Are you registered to vote and is your registration up to date?
- Do you vote? If not, why?
- Do you feel like your vote makes a difference?
- Do you feel like the candidates and issues on the ballot have an impact on you directly?
- How do you feel about “politics”?
Politics can be a very sensitive and heated topic for a lot of people. Imagine a stranger walks up to you and asks you if you voted in the last election. I’m sure you can imagine the general answer I received in asking that question. 97% of millennials that I spoke with responded ‘yes’ to voting in the last election. Hmm…
The following statistics show an interesting discrepancy that I discovered in our research. On the left, it shows the percentage of millennials that say they voted based on our interviews and online survey. On the right, it shows the percentage of millennials that actually voted based on stats from the Pew Research Center.
As you can see there appears to be a disconnect. Was it the demographic? Sample size? Is it simply dishonesty? While I don’t want to jump to conclusions, it is important to note that our research could be tainted.
To register or not to register:
That is the question. Our online survey posed a question about voter registration and if people considered it to be a straightforward and simple process. On a scale of difficulty, 47.6% of people scored the registration process at 5 or above. This means that nearly half of people don’t consider it a simple process.
26 year-old Mike from Pennsylvania told us that he had previously moved and didn’t vote for a few years because his polling place was too far away and he was never on top of it quick enough to request a mail in ballot. He mentioned that he still has several friends that are not registered in the state they currently live in. Another millennial, 25 year-old Laura, said she has moved five times in the past five years (within the state of Utah) and has experienced a lot of issues with updating her registration for each move.
Insights: Millennials are nomadic! The registration process needs to be streamlined, straightforward, and consistent across all platforms.
Chatting with the experts:
I met with Teena Horlacher, the Davis County Republican Chair, and Olivia, a government research analyst. They reinforced a lot of my assumptions and made some good points as to why millennials aren’t showing up to the polls, but unfortunately couldn’t give a good solution to change that. One quote from Teena in regards to millennial involvement:
Key points I picked up from my conversations with Teena and Olivia was that there is no good way to find unbiased information. You have to listen to both sides and make your own informed decision. In response to millennials feeling like their vote doesn’t make a difference, Olivia said that getting involved locally is where you can make an impact. “People complain about the system, but it is only because they don’t understand it.”
Insights and the bottom line:
These are a few of my insights into how users might be feeling based on quotes from interviews:
A lot of our assumptions were validated through the research, but some more than others. The bottom line: main reasons for millennials not voting were feeling overwhelmed and unable to make an informed decision, forgetfulness, feeling like vote doesn’t matter, lack of interest in “politics”, or registration not being up to date.
Step 2: Scope
Being able to identify those feelings and behaviors helped us develop our persona, Scott Crawford. Scott has somewhat of a “whatever” attitude as he doesn’t see how his vote has any sort of impact. He has moved several times and finds it too time consuming to update his registration each time he moves. He wishes it was easier to find unbiased information and stay informed. Ultimately it would be nice to feel like his voice mattered.
We used Scott to establish the vision, direction, and deliverables of this project:
To give civic involvement a positive image and inspire users to want to get involved in the voting process.
Increase voter turnout by informing users about voting (issues, candidates and their platforms, dates of elections, etc.) and increase interest in the political process by making the registration and voting process more convenient through an online system.
We are dealing with an audience that has expressed disinterest in voting and the political process, so we need to figure out how to design a site that they’ll visit and will keep them engaged through the election. Incorporating electronic voting introduces other challenges with ensuring security and getting people to trust the system.
Stepping into Scott’s life was crucial here. Design is intentional and each step needs to come with the end user in mind. Keeping Scott’s goals in central focus helped us as we transitioned into the next step.
Step 3: Structure
So how do you engage the disinterested? The uninformed? The hopeless? How do you show millennials that issues can have direct impact on their lives? I collaborated with my team for the user story mapping process to come up with any ideas that might spark a difference in the voter turnout. Electronic voting was a key idea discussed during this process. Questions that needed to be answered about it: Is it realistic? Would it be secure? Could people trust the system?
After a lot of hashing and rehashing, we consolidated all of our ideas and established an MVP (minimum viable product). These are the high priority user tasks that my team and I came up:
- Register to vote (electronically)
- Learn about the issues and candidates on the ballot
- Vote (electronically)
I translated these user tasks into directly into a site map to ensure they were given the proper hierarchy. In conjuction, I conducted card sorts to ensure the navigation system would be understandable to users. During each card sort I encouraged users to think aloud as they categorized cards. This allowed me to identify consistent thought patterns and use that information to build out the architecture in a way that was straightforward and predictable. My site map and user flow:
Step 4: Skeleton
I used my site map and user flow to build out the navigation and incorporate the MVP features into lo-fidelity sketches. Considering the user population I began sketching mobile designs first, as this would most likely be the more convenient option for users. Designing for mobile compelled me keep it simple and to make sure that only necessary elements were included in the design.
Numero Uno — Registering to Vote
47% of individuals from the online survey said they didn’t consider the registration process simple, which is why this became the number one priority task. Between school, new jobs, travel, marriage, and adventures, Millennials are very nomadic, which means consistently updating their voter registration. Therefore the registration process needs to be simplified!
A human centered decision to break down the registration process:
- Baby steps help to build trust with the user. Designing it to feel like a conversation makes it feel more natural. You woudn’t walk up to a stranger and ask them for their social security number.
- Unlike filling out a form at the doctor’s office, this registration form gives consistent and continual feedback, which means users making less mistakes. Preventing an error is better than even the best-designed error message.
- Bite-sized chunks makes the whole process less overwhelming, which leads to a higher completion rate.
Feedback from testing the registration process:
- “If I messed up how do I go back to the previous screen?”
- “Will it save my progress if I navigate between the different steps?”
Based on the feedback I would look at adding a back button on the form to see if that eliminated the confusion of navigating back to fix previous mistakes.
Side Navigation to Maintain Consistency
One reason that I decided on the side navigation system was to maintain consistency among various user platforms (mobile, desktop, tablet). Millennials are known for their phone usage so it was important to design a seamless transition between mobile and desktop platforms. Using the side navigation bar adjusted the usable screen space for content, which created similar dimensions to a mobile or tablet screen. This produced a more cohesive design across all platforms, which helps with consistency and learnability.
In addition, a side navigation bar is more responsive when establishing breakpoints and provides a modern look and feel, which is necessary in engaging our target user.
Call to Action
My primary call to action is registering to vote because this is the primary step in the voting process. Users are prompted to create an account during the registration process. An important factor was making it engaging for everyone, whether they are already registered, need to register, or need to update registration. The images below depict the progression of my call to action on the home page:
Electronic Voting — Are we there yet?
I researched Blockchain technology, which is a digital ledger for cryptocurrency. By design, it is resistant to modification of its data, which is why it is the latest buzzword when it comes to online security. There are a few states that are currently pioneering electronic voting, but I don’t have enough expertise to say if we are ready for a complete overhaul or not.
Pros of electronic voting:
- Convenience of being able to vote anytime, anywhere
- Don’t have to worry about absentee ballots or people that are sick, out of town, etc.
- Saves time and reduces crowds at polling locations
- Can vote in privacy and the comfort of own home
- Consistency with registration and voting process
- Could request reminder push notifications
Challenges of electronic voting:
- How to verify identify and eliminate voter fraud
- Maintaining system security
- Getting people to trust the system
- No ‘I Voted’ sticker (a legitimate concern I heard from more than one person)
I incorporated electronic voting into my design because I believe we are headed in that direction and that it would make a big difference in the turnout of elections because it is convenient, quick, and can be done from anywhere.
Social media plays a huge part in the lives of Millennials. Web platforms like Rock the Vote and Vote.org have used this to their advantage by using celebrities spokespeople and social media influencers to encourage the younger generations to vote. Feeling validated and socially accepted by peers was one of Scott’s (persona) goals so I wanted to build on that social media influence by incorporating a verified voter social media badge that users could download after voting. This could then be shared on SM sites like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Just a little something that excites the user, gives a sense of accomplishment, and spreads the word to influence others to vote as well. “Do it for the gram!”
Step 5: Surface
The key message I wanted to portray was positivity and patriotism. I reached out and asked people when they felt most patriotic. Some responses: Independence day, baseball games, the olympics, world cup, listening to dad sing the national anthem, memorial day, fireworks, thinking of veterans and those currently serving the country. The most popular answers:
Creating a style guide:
Bold, modern, positive, and a sense of community. I didn’t want the site to feel corporate or like a traditional government site, as that could be a turnoff for our target user. The logo and deep blue color paired with the stark red give off an olympic vibe.
Welcome to Party in the USA
The landing page is long scrolling content with a static side navigation bar because our users are conditioned to scroll more and click less. Home screen features uplifting user photos that have been tagged on social media. Users can also scroll for a glimpse into candidates, issues, local events, and impactful stories, which can also be found via the side navigation menu.
Politics. A difficult task to take on considering the layers of stigma associated with the word alone. For the first time ever, Millennials and GenX voters outnumbered the Baby Boomers and older voters. The gap will only widen with future elections and Millennials will continue to swell their share of the electorate. The problem: Millennials aren’t showing up to the polls.
My Final Solution
1. One-stop-shop: Being able to register, get to know issues/candidates, and vote all in one place and from anywhere in the world makes it easier and more convenient for Millennials to vote, stay informed, and be involved.
2. Inspiring a positive culture: Eliminating the cloud of negativity that surrounds “politics” and replacing it with community and patriotism.
3. Get involved locally: Pointing users toward local issues, community events, and local elections helps them see the biggest impact and makes them feel like they have a voice.
- Ask the right questions! If I could go back I would have changed the questions that I asked on the online survey. The difficult part is that sometimes you can’t see it coming because the feedback isn’t what you anticipated and leads to more questions. Make sure every question is thoughtfully constructed.
- Be intentional. Ask yourself the reason behind each decision you make. How does it help the user achieve their goals? Is it backed by your user data? If I had more time I would test, test, test to validate my designs and ensure they were meeting the user’s needs on an overall scale (instead of just testing one feature).
- Do your research. I read a lot of articles about Blockchain and guess what, I still don’t fully understand it. It is difficult to build a good product around something you can’t wrap your head around. So do whatever it takes to get the research that you need. With more time I would continue to research the logistics of how it would work to vote with Blockchain.
Thanks for reading! Feedback is always welcome. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. 😉
Changing the face of American politics: a UX case study was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.