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A Vote for Better Design

Lizard people (ahem, Minnesota), butterfly ballots, and hanging, swinging, pregnant, and dimpled chads (here's looking at you, Florida)—voting in American elections always comes with a healthy dose of anxiety. But as I voted this morning here in Chicago, I found myself reassured by the ballot before me. Easy-to-follow directions, an understandable layout, and readable text—the ballot let me focus on making important decisions rather than navigating impenetrable blocks of letters or deciphering a baffling design.

Ballots in Cook County are a great example of how graphic design can serve the common good. After voting debacles in 2000, the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) launched a project called Design for Democracy, which aims to make the process of voting easier and more efficient. AIGA worked with Cook County and the state of Oregon to revamp voting materials and in 2007, Marcia Lausen published Design for Democracy: Ballot and Election Design (University of Chicago Press/AIGA), which has become an invaluable toolkit for citizens and officials who want to make voting as straightforward as possible.

Displayed at the Art Institute this spring and summer as part of the exhibition Rethinking Typologies, Design for Democracy: Ballot and Election Design includes suggestions (that might seem obvious, but aren't embraced as often as you might think) such as:

– Prioritize voter directions over administrative requirements

– Present concise text

– Use upper- and lowercase sans serif typefaces with left alignment for readability

– Don't use all caps

– Print text in 12-point font or larger

– Use universally recognized icons

– Utilize color and contrast to highlight important information

Election administration is up to states and municipalities, so even though there are model cities, counties, and states, many polling sites around the country still have atrocious voter-experience. Voting is an important part of maintaining democracy (duh), but making the process easier, clearer, and less prone to electoral dysfunction is vital in reinvigorating our democratic institutions.

If you haven't already, go vote! And if your ballot leaves something to be desired (we're talking graphic design, here, people), talk to your local election officials about making better design happen in your community.