Blog Pick :: AIGA

Written by Alyce Packard, BID Candidate

Now that the election is beind us, let's chat about how ballots can be improved, since everything can always benefit from another iteration. The AIGA, American Institute of Graphic Arts, is the oldest and largest professional membership organization for design. Their mission is to advance designing as a professional craft. While those of us who voted last week might not have noticed how much thought and design went into the ballot we were filling out, there are actually quite a few challenges that go along with designing the form. 

The Design for Democracy iniative began to focus on election design in the wake of the 2000 presidential election. Their goal was to apply information design principles of clarity and simplicity in order to make voting easier and more accurate for all U.S. citizens. In 2005, they began to work with the EAC, U.S. Election Assistance Commission. They ended up establishing national ballot and polling place design guidelines in 2007. Bad designs can change the results of an election.

Photo from
This, I think, is one of the clearest examples of clear vs. complicated design. This was the original ballot design. The voters are supposed to fill in the incomplete arrow lines, connecting the head and the tail to vote for that candidate. Because people were reading the ballot left to right, many voters mistakenly filled in the arrow to the right of the candidates name instead of the arrow to the left of their name. There are hardly any visual cues on the page and the small amount of space between the columns makes it hard for the voter to tell which arrow goes with which candidate.

Photo from
This was the second draft of the same design. Although it is still confusing, it's on its way to being clearer. They decided to box each section separately and leave more space between each section to make it clearer.

Photo from
This is the third re-designed ballot, which is clearly the ideal choice of the three because it followed some of the recommendations which included having instructions at the top of the page, having the option of filling something in only on one side of the candidates’ names and placing each instruction on its own line. These have to be easily read by all citizens varying in age and education levels.

Design for democracy came up with this list of top ten ballot design principles:
1. Use lower case letters
2. Avoid centered text
3. Pick one sans-serif font
4. Use big enough type
5. Support process and navigation
6. Use clear, simple language
7. Use accurate instructional illustrations
8. Use informational icons only
9. Use contrast and color functionally
10. Decide what's most important

To learn why these principles are important and how to use them, visit their site