The Design of Voting

We can fly a man to the moon, but we can’t design an effective ballot. What gives?

It’s amazing to know that we, as American citizens, cast votes to elect our officials; however, it’s equally disappointing when your experience at the polls is nothing short of confusing.

Earlier today, I cast my vote at my local polling place. Having done this for several elections, a few things stuck out:

  • many voters didn’t know what precinct they lived in,
  • others were unfamiliar with the voting process, and, most importantly,
  • the ballot appeared to be designed by a third-grader.

And “designed” is used generously. Shouldn’t this be simpler?

Fundamentals

Ballots should be designed for two things:

  • Legibility: Know your audience and assume that voters will have a difficult time reading small or light type. Typeface matters!
  • Ease-of-use: The last thing a voter should be when reading a ballot is confused. Keep the design as simple as possible while still communicating key information.

That’s it. A legible, easily understood ballot will make for a much better polling experience – which should be more a celebration than a frustrating nuisance!

How do we guarantee this result? A few design enhancements can go a long way.

Embrace space

First, we must separate key blocks of information. The federal election, state election, and local races and questions should all be given ample white space in between each other. Similarly, each candidate should be clearly marked and given air to breathe. Cramming several candidates into less space may save paper, but doesn’t provide clarity or a satisfying experience to the voting public.

Simple instructions

Work under the assumption that this will be everyone’s first vote. Perhaps the voting area of the ballot comes with a line of text reading, “Vote for one of the following candidates. If you vote for more than one, your vote will not count.”

For local elections (perhaps state representatives), ballots might read, “Vote for one of the following state representatives. State representatives work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and represent districts across the state.”

This seems overly simple, but can help voters feel more confident about their voting responsibility.

Sizing

My ballot used similarly-sized type for the entire document. There was no dominant element and all the information held similar weight.

Altering the headline size on a ballot can make a huge difference. Each section (federal, state, local) should have its own heading, all consistently sized. The next level of information (the candidates’ names) should have a smaller type treatment. Finally, supporting information like a candidate’s party, address or explanatory text for a question should have a tertiary treatment and size. The size and weight of type should work like a funnel or headline structure for a web page.

Civic importance

Just as it’s the responsibility of Americans to cast an educated vote, it’s just as important for local and state governing bodies to design a simpler voting process.

With so much cynicism and voter apathy surrounding voting, the experience must be made simpler and more enjoyable. Americans should feel empowered every election, not frustrated and pressured.

In short: save the ballot and save our elections!

2009 AIGA B(oNE) SHOW

bs1

Thousands of boisterous fans were walking towards Fenway Park to see the Red Sox and Yankees play last Thursday night. Then there’s me – headed in the opposite direction walking to Mass Art to see some of the best design work in New England at the AIGA Bone Show. Hundreds of designers gathered at the Bakalar Gallery on Huntington Avenue for an incredible party with good food, up-beat music, Harpoon beer and inspiring design work. Hart Boillot contributed by creating and donating the letter ‘B’ to be auctioned at this year’s event.

The theme of this year’s BoNE Show was sustainability, community, and design. From AIGA: An environmentally responsible BoNE Show will implement materials and processes that are not harmful to the environment. Design of the exhibition will include many found and repurposed materials and will feature a wall of dimensional letters spelling “AIGA BoNE SHOW.” Our goal is to have these individual, sculptural letters designed and built by members of our New England design community. They will be on display at the AIGA BoNE Show for the duration of the exhibition.

Founded in 1999, Hart-Boillot will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in September of this year. Throughout the company’s history, HB has used the portfolio case that became the foundation of the ‘B.’ With the exception of a few nuts and bolts, every element of the “B” was repurposed from within the walls of the agency.