BallotReady aggregates content from candidates’ websites, social media, press, endorsers and board of elections for comprehensive information about the candidates and referendums on ballots for local and national elections in the United States.
BallotReady started in 2015 making paper voter guides for the Chicago mayoral runoff. With initial support from the National Science Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, BallotReady has continued to grow.
In spring of 2016, BallotReady partnered with General Assembly’s UXDI program to improve their website’s experience for voters. Specifically, they were interested in the following UX improvements that would have a meaningful impact on their overall business:
Increasing the rate of users who enter their address on the homepage, which is how they measure conversion
Increasing the number of users who save candidates
Increasing the number of political races users look at. Each race is currently on a separate page, so on average people currently stop before they get all the way down the ballot.
Accurately capturing the issues a given user cares about in each race.
Increase conversion from landing page currently hovering between 40%-50%
Increase the number of political races users look at (currently between 5-6 on average out of approximately 28)
Increase the number of users who save candidates (not currently benchmarked)
Develop new suggestions for capturing user issue preferences
March 7-25, 2016 (3 week engagement)
User interviews, affinity mapping, opportunity mapping
Field research, UX/UI Design
Pen & paper, Post-its, Sketch, InVision
BallotReady wanted to be more relevant to young voters, which were were able to tap into as we fell into that demographic.
Because of the short timeline of the overall engagement, the team began immediately with heavy secondary research. We combed through articles by the Pew Research Center and other news sites, specifically examining those related to millennial voters. We found that:
79% of millennials think that their vote matters on a local level, but only 5% actually vote
Only six out of twenty six offices on the ballot are recognized
Millennials are known as content creators and as users and they want to participate in co-creating products and brands. Useful is the new cool; millennials value brands that enhance their lives.
“Young people treat electoral politics the way they treat Hollywood movies: they only show up for the blockbusters."
- Derek Thompson
It become evident from the get-go that in order to properly serve millennials, we needed a solution that would cater to their needs of creating thoughtful content and directly enhancing their livelihood in an impactful way.
To validate our hunches, we started interviewing our peers and friends. We very quickly branched out into a guerrilla style test format where we would engage with strangers in populated areas and ask them questions about their voting habits. We wanted to drill down into specific voting patterns, asking questions like:
What do you do if you don’t know a candidate?
How do you find information on a candidate?
What makes you excited to vote for a candidate?
Because we were right in the middle of some already intense presidential election mayhem, we were also to target specific areas where voters would be concentrated. We went to voter registration booths big and small and also walked along a line for a Bernie Sanders rally in order to speak to involved voters.
After a week of interviewing friends and strangers alike, we downloaded our findings to one another by sharing our notes out loud and jotting them down on Post-Its. This practice helped us to foster questions about our notes, which pulled out more stories and observations that may have been missed in the chaos of quickly jotting down notes.
These Post-Its are first organized by interviewee. Then they were clustered into relevant groups, where we could easily see emerging themes that we would need to address in the application.
Analysis & Findings
We quickly discovered* that people either don’t vote for candidates that they don’t recognize or will only vote for candidates from parties they identify with. That is, if they do vote — feelings towards politics and voting tend to be overly distrustful and ambivalent because people feel as though no matter how they vote they will not truly to be able to fix anything.
Our interviewees did not think that their preferred political sources were biased, but they quickly realized that those sources align with their political parties, which is probably why they don’t consider them to be biased. Either way, it’s much easier to follow attention-grabbing headlines than the nitty gritty of campaign details. They felt as though their news sources feel the same way, as they tend to follow larger organizations that don’t report on those local issues to begin with.
In terms of millennial voters, we learned that they want basic, digestible information that they could quickly source. In this sense, they seem to want to “graze” information and tend to lean towards highly digestible news sources like the Skimm. This is partly because Millennials have so many stimuli competing for their attention, which means that the lack of punchy information for smaller offices means they will be overlooked come election day. Millennials are also far less interested in a candidate’s background (i.e. their education or family history) and want to know how the candidate has voted, who they have supported, and where they get their funding from.
We also learned that politics tend to be rather hush-hush. People would rather not bring it up in front of unfamiliar folks in fear of starting an argument. However, they will often ask informed friends for their ballots if they feel as though they do not have enough information to make an educated vote.
*It must be noted that these findings were formulated in March 2016, eight months before Trump was elected. The political climate of the United States at the time was very different than it is now.
After conducting our secondary and contextual research, we knew that the application had to do the following:
Empower users to form their own political opinions
Be fully transparent to provide users with unbiased information on political issues and candidates
Ensure users rely on BallotReady rather than looking to outside sources
Provide the user with the ability to understand all political information on the website
Competitive Analysis + Digital Strategy
To understand how other voting information systems were keeping their users informed, we conducted a thorough competitive analysis where we could start to follow UX/UI patterns, feature sets, and content strategy.
News nowadays gets delivered in a myriad of ways, and we wanted to capture those that are the most relevant to millennial voters. After looking at various large news source, social media outlets, and startups, we created a matrix of the availability of candidate information and whether that information contributed to a voter’s decision.
We were able to determine that with the proper UX changes, BallotReady could be a leader in candidate information as well directly informing the voter on exactly who they should vote for.
UX + Wireframes
We proposed the following UX changes that could help BallotReady reach their goal of being an information leader for millennial voters. All in all, these changes would help BallotReady become a true information hub for all voters.
A glossary of current issues with relevant links and visuals to indicate where voters fall
A thorough quiz on political stances that outputs a ballot
A page for townhalls and other highly local events that includes a partnership with Meetup
Sharing and importing a descriptive ballot
A comparison page for multiple candidates
A full ballot
We began by sketching out the pages we would need communicate the UX overhaul. These would provide the very backbone of our prototype and allow us to flush out the interactions that would need to happen on each page
UI + Prototype
Due to time constraints, the team jumped to creating high-fidelity prototypes that could be quickly tested for structural and visual issues. We chose to work the BallotReady’s existing brand, but we strategically wanted to bring in more visual intrigue to the website that could entice millennial voters.