dSpace Design Group (2017)

Duration: 6 months



Jeff Pierce brought us an idea for VoteLight, a digital platform to allowcitizens, politicians, and the media to connect and share their thoughts on issues faster than ever before.

In tackling the question of what we thought VoteLight should and should not do, our team first wanted to better understand the current landscape for politics online. We used the Stanford model of design thinking to find our niche and test various solutions with real user feedback.


The Problem for Citizens

Research Method: We conducted a series of two structured interviews with people ranging in age from 18 to 65. The first interview probed users' current digital engagement behaviors in general as well as specifically for political discourse. We found that many people do not currently express their political opinions online, we conducted a second interview aimed at detecting the extent to which people are worried about political issues, how they express their opinions or try to the resolve the issue, and how satisfying they found each action taken.


  • Interviewees were more likely to use digital platforms for gathering information than expressing their personal opinions, largely due to a self-reported fear of backlash
  • People expressed concern over a greater number of national issues than state or local issues, and state and local issues overlapped greatly
  • After coding the participants' responses and categorizing them based on whether or not their specific stance on the issue could be detected by someone with power to remedy the situation, we found that participants rated acts of "direct communication" as more satisfying than other behaviors, like voting in a general election or talking to friends and family
  • Conclusion: Voters want to express their political opinions in a way that they can control who sees the information, and generally prefer that their input be seen by politicians or those with power to enact change


The Problem for Politicians

Research Method: We conducted several unstructured interviews with politicians at the national, state, and local level about their engagement with constituents and their thoughts on a digital application to facilitate the process.


  • Politicians welcome feedback from their constituents who are well-informed; politicians also emphasized a need for confirmation that the person is a potential voter living in the politician's district
  • Politicians prefer personal communication over stock messages like mass "carpet bombing" emails and phone calls
  • There are certain laws at the national, state, and local levels governing the gathering of representatives (e.g., a quorum exceeding a certain number of representatives requires public notice and that all matters discussed be documented for public access at a later date)
  • Conclusion: While a digital platform for political discourse would pose certain legal and logistical challenges, politicians seem like they would benefit from the opportunity to directly engage with their constituents in new and easier ways



Using the insights we identified from out time with voters and politicians, the group conducted an ideation session to list key features that the platform should offer. We let our thinking diverge and become more abstract, generating a number of alternative solutions. Then we took the best aspects of each idea to create an outline of our app's features. Ultimately, we concluded that our understanding of the problem was a little different than the one Jeff had portrayed.

While Jeff originally thought, "It is too difficult for voters to engage in politics," we later offered:

In order to engage more in political discourse, especially online, voters need to first feel safe from backlash and confident that their opinions will be received by politicians and other people with the power to enact change.



The group created a flow of the basic functions of the platform, including:

  • Landing Page
  • Log in/Registration
  • Viewing Issues
  • Voting on Issues
  • Creating Issues
  • Representative Look-up
  • Chat with Citizens and Politicans



Next we used Indigo Studio to create a digital prototype of the platform.


User Testing

Using our interactive prototype, we conducted seven user tests with people who had not heard about the VoteLight idea until the beginning of the test. We briefly explained the purpose of the platform and asked participants to think aloud while they completed unstructured and structured tasks.

First we asked participants to quickly click around the platform. We found that the general purpose of the application was both intuitive and interesting. 

Next we asked participants to complete a number of specific tasks, including logging in, creating an issue, voting on an issue, reading more about an issue and its comments, see who one's representatives are, and accessing the chat feature. We found that the main engine for voting processes was easy to navigate. However, seeking a list of one's representatives and accessing the chat feature were both completed less successfully than the voting functions and took longer to complete. While participants who found the representative list and chat feature expressed delight with these features, their difficulty finding them in comparison with the voting functions suggests that the two groups of functions are cognitively disparate. This gap between the mental models was enough to warrant an interface that treats them as two unique groups of functions. Our original design listed all of the functions in a menu bar at the top of each page, but there may be utility in treating each issue as a hub with a unique instance of each feature (i.e., comments, representative list, and chat only for that individual issue).