If you think about the American voting system, you could think of a number of negative things to say about it. And it can be anything from the process – to the amount of information you do or do not receive – either way there is room for improvement. Looking at the statistics of voting, less than two-thirds of voting-age citizens cast a ballot in most elections. Only 61.8% of eligible Americans voted in the 2012 election, and that’s considered a fairly good turnout. The number of ballots cast in midterm elections (when there are no presidential candidates to vote for) tends to be even lower.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society recently held a call for submissions that revolved around designing the “Voting System of Tomorrow.” How can designers create an innovative, intuitive, and holistic experience that can make the current voting statistics shoot through the roof the next round of voting?
The team at Intuitive Company, who specialize in interactions with complex systems, took the challenge head-on, creating not only a sleek, easy, and informative phone app, but also making sure that voting went beyond the ballot to really hone in on improving the entire user-experience for both everyday citizens and election volunteers. Thus, they came out with Intuitive Voting.
“The idea is that it’s a single point [of entry] for the voting process—for registering, for learning about the issues, then for voting, either directly or indirectly,” says Rob Tannen, Director of Design Research and Strategy at the Intuitive Company. By making the system into two different apps, they have streamlined the process to best cater to the voters and the volunteers. The volunteer side of the app has information such as Election Day volunteer procedures, like when to show up and set up the voting machines, contact information for election officials, and a way to report current estimated voting times at a polling place. This separation in necessary to maintain an unbiased volunteer staff, because it is important for polling-place volunteers to remain objective and unbiased to the outcome of the elections they’re helping run. The voter app includes a tool to help people register to vote, information about the candidates and their positions, and a sample ballot function where users can record their choices before they head into the voting booth.
Part of what Intuitive Voting is trying to tackle is America’s well-documented issue with voter apathy. “We were trying to figure out a way that we could increase people’s interest and engagement in voting beyond election season and Election Day,” Tannen says. “Most of the year, people don’t really pay much attention to voting.” This can particularly bring up a problem where voters may feel like they are socially pressured to vote one way over another because they are misinformed. With the app, the design team made sure the information came quickly and clearly. There is also an option for being able to sign up as a voter by simply taking a photo of your drivers license with just a few taps. This makes the process as simple as ordering take out in a food delivery app.
When it came to the overall look and feel of the apps, the design team at Intuitive faced a number of challenges. Because ballots are different from state to state, they needed a way to unify without being branded. Deciding what color to make the app was probably one of the biggest obstacles, since they needed a palette that remained neutral. The obvious choice is to go red, white, and blue, but those are also the colors often used by candidates,” Tannen explains. Red and blue tend to be associated with specific parties. In the end, the logo uses the same speech bubble in the Intuitive Company’s own logo, and the apps’ interfaces are mostly blue and black. Which gives off a very generic look without sacrificing quality of design.
The design team not only thought about the “now” but also how the apps could evolve for the future. Although research has shown smartphone voting could help make voting more accurate, it’s unlikely they will be getting a voting app anytime soon. American politicians can’t even agree on the security of our current voting process, to add in the possibility of hacking a digital election, would make the odds of it being a reality very unlikely. But ideally, Intuitive Voting could eventually become a way to actually cast a ballot via smartphone. The “My Ballot” function presented in the app could be your real, valid U.S. election ballot, and you could vote straight from the app. Until that happens, though, the function can be used to help people make decisions on their favorite candidates before they enter the voting booth. This would theoretically speed up the voting process, since people have already made their choices, meaning shorter wait times at the polls, another way to make casting a ballot a little more painless. It’s difficult to truly reform the way we cast ballots, but small steps in a more unified direction could help voting popularity and change of attitude towards voting for the future.