From the Design Desk: Design for Good

This is the first of a monthly series where we’ll be highlighting designers and design projects that aim to create social value. Fellow Design Desk contributor Jen Tolo Pierce and I attended the AIGA Gain Conference last month and were inspired by the many presenters and discussions around utilizing our skills as designers for common good. Gain “presenters demonstrated the broadening role design plays in institutional strategy, leadership, process and service, product and message, and how the creative attributes of designers provide special advantages to tackling socially relevant projects and enhancing the human experience.”

Last week with the excitement of voting and stickers and red and blue maps, chances are that the design of your county’s ballot was not a highlight. Long lamented, ballot design is a place where clarity is so obviously crucial, and the difference between good design (ie. clear, legible information and instructions) and bad design, can mean misrepresented votes and voter disenfranchisement. “Design defects in ballots, voter instructions, and voting machines contributed to the loss of several hundred thousand votes in the most recent national elections, according to a recent Brennan Center for Justice study.

Enter AIGA’s Design for Democracy initiative. The project began to focus on election design “in the wake of the 2000 presidential election, seeking to apply information design principles of clarity and simplicity in order to make voting easier and more accurate for all U.S. Citizens.” Hooray! Design for Democracy recently created a series of pocket-size handbooks called “Field Guides To Ensuring Voter Intent,” which were distributed to county election officials this year. The handbooks contain guidelines and suggestions for ballot design which will *hopefully* be incorporated by individual counties in future elections.

The Design for Democracy website also contains some before and after examples showing how simple changes to existing ballot design can greatly enhance clarity and usability.

If this issue is of interest to you, please volunteer to help Design for Democracy’s efforts to get the word out and redesign more ballots before the next national elections:

If you haven’t yet recycled your sample ballot from last week, there’s a quick and easy way to help! You can upload your sample ballot on to add to their collection of sample ballots from around the county used to pinpoint methods to improve their design.

Here’s to good information design improving our democratic process!

Emily Dubin

Emily Dubin

Senior Designer at Chronicle Books, collector of magazines, watches, and vintage ephemera. See more of her work at
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