LocalVote: An App for Political Engagement on the Home Front
A curated app for voters to effect change in their own neighborhoods by getting informed and involved in local elections
Check out the prototype!
The project began as a challenge for Startup Weekend, a hackathon focused on business ideation and design. The weekend began with brief pitches from almost fifty participants who were looking to work on their ideas. All participants then voted for the top ten. Of those, eight recruited enough people to join their team, and began working on building business models and prototypes the next morning, with focus on validating and testing their ideas. At the end of the weekend, all submissions were presented to an expert panel and potential investors for feedback. We’re now pursuing the funding and implementation of LocalVote as an early-stage startup.
Michael Acharya, Dan Cooper, Mariana Chambers, Luis Espinal, Gina Giardinieri, me, Sia Moua, and Andrew Simmons
My Main Roles
Chief Product Designer—as the sole designer on the team, I was responsible for all UX methodology and deliverables. I educated and enlisted other team members to help with research and testing, but worked on synthesis, wireframing and prototyping, iteration, and general UX strategy on my own.
2 days! The Startup Weekend timeline is very tight. Since then, I’ve made minor cosmetic changes to the prototype.
Limitations & Parameters
Given the very abbreviated timeframe, it was obvious that time was going to be the most limiting factor. After joining the LocalVote team, I immediately set a UX strategy in place, with research & synthesis taking place Saturday morning and afternoon, ideation & design Saturday evening, and testing & iteration Sunday morning. I went through my UX toolkit to choose only those methods that would be essential to our process, and considered which steps I could ask non-designers to help with. It turned out to be a good strategy, and we were able to move through my agenda on time and deliver a well-functioning prototype.
Given the focus on super-rapid prototyping and developing an MVP, we decided for business and logistics reasons to limit ourselves to the New York market. In our research and testing phases, we did our best to reach out to as diverse a group of voters as possible, but the majority of our respondents were millennial voters from New York, so we focused on their needs in our initial build.
Resources & Materials
We used Sketch for wireframing, InVision for prototyping, and Trello for project management.
Our first research task was to find out local voting behavior. Perusing statistics about voting, we uncovered a shocking opportunity:
It was natural for us to focus in on the issue. Going into the project with the intuition that a local voting tool was missing, we had some initial assumptions:
Main assumption pre-research:
People don’t know when or where elections are happening, which is why they don’t show up—it’s a logistical issue.
From that, we crafted our initial problem statement:
Local elections (as opposed to national) have the most potential to make a difference in people’s lives, but suffer from very low turnout. Voters want to support the causes and candidates they care about, but have a hard time carrying through their intention to actually vote, particularly in local elections. How might we make it easier and more rewarding to vote locally, thereby increasing voter turnout?
To gain insight into the voter problem, we began our research with an analysis of the competitor landscape, from apps to websites that voters currently use to get information or engagement. We identified a list of competitors and graphed them to see their focus on a continuum of national to local, and general to personalized. We also noted what their focus was on helping people get informed vs. taking action. We found that there was very little activity on the local and personalized sector, which presented a market opportunity:
We then devised a short online survey using Google forms to gather user research. It began with a few demographic questions about residence, gender, and generation (for approximate age). Our main questions then asked whether respondents voted in their last election, and if they didn’t, what the reasons were. We offered a dropdown with the following options:
You don’t think your vote matters
You don’t know which elections are coming up and when
You don’t know the issues well enough to make an informed decision
You don’t feel connected to the candidates
You’re not registered to vote in NYC and don’t know how to register
You don’t know where to physically go vote or how to complete an absentee ballot
Finally, we also allowed a short-answer response for any additional catch-alls for reasons why respondents didn’t vote.
We received over 100 responses. Our findings centered on a few findings that backed our assumptions about logistical issues being the main detractors to voting:
For our final phase of research, we conducted brief user interviews with people in a NYC park about past voting behaviors and attitudes.
These were our main questions:
Walk me through your most recent local voting experience, if you have any.
What’s the main challenge you’ve encountered with local voting? What are the other challenges you’ve encountered?
What would make it easier for you to vote?
In general, if time allowed and the interviewees seemed willing to spend more time speaking with us, we also asked about their feelings about voting, their research process for elections, how they decide who to vote for, what they most need help with, and their feelings about voting sites and apps.
Here’s a great quote from our interviews:
With our 22 user interviews, we did an affinity mapping exercise to cluster together natural relationships. Using post-it notes, we wrote out individual items of interest and moved them around until they converged into themes. Our biggest findings were confirming the logistical issues that discouraged voting: difficulties with registering, not knowing where and when to vote, local elections not being on their radar, etc. One important theme that emerged from on-site interviews was, in addition to logistical issues, more attitudinal concerns. Though some interviewees felt that their vote mattered, some also expressed the feeling that they were voting out of duty rather than engagement, and that they weren’t sure how their votes translated to change, particularly in regards to their top concerns. Many interviewees were passionate about issues that touched their day to day life, like transportation and housing costs, but nonetheless had trouble using that passion to vote for change. For instance, a user might feel passionate about education reform in public schools, but lacked the information about which elections and candidates to follow in order to address the issue. The main learning from mapping was that the more ambiguous attitudinal concerns were often closely tied to more pragmatic logistical concerns, and that tackling one problem would likely help solve the other. This was a heartening finding, and helped us to refine our understanding of the problem.
For our revised problem statement, we incorporated our research learnings:
Many politically engaged people vote in federal and state elections, but don’t in local elections even though they have the most potential to make a difference in their lives. Voters want to champion the causes that affect them, but struggle with disengagement, logistical issues, and lack of information.
How might we help them make the leap from personal values to voting, making both behavioral and attitudinal changes, thereby increasing voter turnout and engagement?
With that, we began thinking of a possible solution:
Status - millennials vote based on issues instead of party lines; people don’t know the issues that are being voted on and therefore lack the motivation to get involved
Solution - build an app with push notifications to tell people what issues are being voted on and when, and directs them to the logistical information they need to get involved
Finally, we closed out our synthesis process by creating 3 simplified personas, which would help us focus our efforts on designing for our user needs and goals. They represented a variety of behaviors and attitudes we uncovered in research:
Ideation & Design
The ideation process began with brainstorming a list of potential features that would address our users’ needs. We then prioritized them by order of importance from must-have (necessary for the MVP) to won’t-have (add-ons that are low-priority):
With an idea of what design elements would be incorporated, we determined that our app had two main functions, housed on separate sections:
An events listing for upcoming elections and other related engagements like rallies with details
A news feed with stories
Both would be tailored for the user’s location and affected issues.
Below are a few key wireframes showing the events listing, event detail, and news feed:
In addition to these, we added the signup process to allow the user to stipulate the information that would customize the feed, added a profile page, and a few additional clickable pages to flesh out the prototype.
Testing & Iteration
With our low-fidelity prototype, we wrote a few simple usability testing scenarios to gather feedback on our design:
1. You’re a voter looking to engage more in local politics. Find information about an event on sanctuary cities, and about the organizer of the event.
2. You’d like to read some news about topics that interest you. Find the news and read an article about local voting.
3. You’d like to edit your information. Find your user profile.
In addition, we also had some general questions for testers:
What was the hardest part about using it?
What was the best part of using it?
If you could wave a magic wand, what would you add or take away from the app?
If this existed would you be more likely to vote?
Will you download this if we make it?
We tested 10 people with the prototype on the streets of New York, and got a 90% success rate across each of the tasks. In general, users found it simple to use, though some expressed a desire for more functionality. Most said that they would be more likely to vote, and that they might be interested in using the app.
We heard a great quote from testing from someone we had interviewed earlier:
After aggregating the results, here are the main changes we made in response to pain points and errors uncovered in testing:
ability to follow subjects and writers
push notification tracking whether user voted or not
more information on elections rather than political events
filters to further personalize the experience
more information on candidates
We also incorporated color, branding on the first page, bigger buttons, and a pinned menu bar (the first prototype had a scrolling page but the menu was at the bottom).
User testing also prompted potential changes that were larger than the scope of the weekend, but could potentially be incorporated in future iterations:
who’s going view for events
perks, badges, or other rewards
Though there are lots of potential next steps design-wise given the abbreviated timeline, like additional research and testing, building out a more robust prototype, and incorporating lower-priority features from prioritization, we saw the most important next steps as business steps.
Our business model, distilled from the business model canvas we created, considers a diverse set of revenue streams:
Our user acquisition is a trifold strategy that comprises real-life and digital aspects with influencers and everyday people:
Finally, our long-term goals are laid out:
Working on LocalVote was like nothing I’d done before in duration of time (the fastest I’d done a prior UX project was a week), scope (business-focused with design being just one part of the organic growth plan, including some technical handoff work), and collaboration (my teammates came from diverse roles in the tech world, from development to entrepreneurship, marketing, project management, and more, and each contributed in flexible ways). As I mentioned before, we’re continuing to pursue this well beyond Startup Weekend. I believe part of this is because we put together a great idea that hasn’t been done before, supported by a solid business plan. The other part is our exceptional collaboration, with each member contributing their skills and energy to a great working relationship. Being new to the startup world, I have an understanding now of how companies are founded and get off the ground. I’m looking forward to the grant writing and funding that will take our startup to the next level.
IDEATION & DESIGN:
-Low-fi Wireframing & Prototyping
TESTING & ITERATION:
-High-fi Wireframing & Prototyping