Thursday, September 25, 2008

Design for Democracy

I went to go see Marcia Lausen's talk entitled "Design for Democracy: Ballot and Election Design" at Towson University tonight. Although it was fast-paced, she covered a lot of interesting things.

Basically, she aided in the redesign of ballots and election materials in, so far, Chicago and Oregon. Lausen, along with an undergraduate graphic design class, an undergraduate industrial design class and election officials and committees took on the challenges of several problem areas, created solutions, designed materials, tested materials and are dispersing this information for free (AIGA Design for Democracy gives away A LOT of free materials regarding voting and the election). They gained increasing national attention and were showcased in several countries in Europe.

What I strongly appreciated is that Marcia Lausen isn't using this platform to pat herself on the back. She's advocating for the design profession. Working with people (election officials, government officials) who don't understand what design is or don't see the need for it, and making them understand that poor design has consequences (e.g. Florida in 2000) and that good design makes for more voter retention (she actually had a great chart on this) which ultimately serves to better our democracy. Likewise, she told officials that the jargon on the election ballot needed to be rewritten, and when they said no (for fears of being sued and what not), she asked them, do you even care about the voters? Audience!

Other really great things: apparently, there are laws about ballot design such as all names of candidates must be entirely capitalized. She had to go to court (?) and have this overturned, she convinced them that correct capitalization with lowercase letters is more easily distinguished than straight caps. She didn't know at the time that she should have been arguing for the grey background in the prototype too, apparently, that is also legally defined.

Lausen and her class overcame a lot of heirarchy of information problems by simplifying text sizes, weights and fonts. In addition, they created an overall identity for the materials: "red for instruction, blue for information" was a solid component. When voters recieved something in the mail 3 months before the election, it looked like the information given to them on the day of election. (Previously, voters would recieve a how-to brochure in the mail with 4 steps, and then on election day be given a how-to (for the same procedure) that had blown up into 11 steps and a completely different design.)

All and all, it was an interesting talk on a subject that I wouldn't have thought could be interesting. And it really provided a real life example for anyone who thinks design doesn't matter or is easy (Lausen worked on this project, and subsequent book, for eight years).

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