Civic Design

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Top 10 Ballot Design Principles

Design for Democracy, a project of AIGA, observed hundreds of voters using dozens of variations of designs for ballots over two years of research for the Election Assistance Commission. The results formed the basis of a beautiful design specification for ballots and other election materials that the EAC published in 2006. Below are the top 10 guidelines that came out of that report.
  • Use lowercase letters. It’s easier to read mixed case and sentence case text than it is to read all uppercase text. 
  • Avoid centered text. Centered text is for wedding invitations and wine labels. Left justified text makes it easier to identify the beginnings of new sentences, assisting skimming.
  • Pick one sans-serif font. Serif type faces feature tiny strokes at the ends of characters that may make text more difficult to read. The font used in this blog is Helvetica, which has no serifs – and is thus a sans serif font – and is similar to the recommended typeface for ballots and forms. 
  • Use big enough type. Research shows that 12-point type for print is highly readable by most people. On a computer screen, type should be at least 3 mm high. It is possible to use type that is too large for the purpose. Using 16-point or larger type for printed ballots may be too large. 
  • Support process and navigation. Voters make their way through a ballot in a particular way, whether it is a print ballot or an electronic one. The design of the ballot needs to reflect how voters expect to use it. It also needs to prompt behavior in the right places. For example, instructions for turning over a printed ballot to vote both sides should be at the bottom of the right hand column.  
  • Use clear, simple language. Avoid election jargon such as “partisan.” Use active voice, and cast instructions positively rather than negatively. 
  • Use accurate instructional illustrations. Using simple, clear illustrations that show clearly how to mark a ballot assists all voters, but especially helps low literacy voters. 
  • Use informational icons (only). Some US jurisdictions include icons or symbols on the ballot for each party. However, such icons have been found to be distracting and confusing on ballots. Voters are more likely to make mistakes on ballots that include party icons. Icons should only be used to signal something the voter should pay specific attention to, such as special instructions or system warnings. 
  • Use contrast and color functionally. Using color judiciously, consistently, and for specific conventions can help voters find their way through the ballot. For example, shading and contrast can be used effectively on print ballots to set one contest off from the next. In electronic voting systems, color can call out voters’ selections; designate forward or backward progress through a ballot; or under- or overvotes
  • Decide what’s most important. When all of the text on a ballot looks the same, it can be difficult for the voter to identify what she should do and how to do it. Create a visual hierarchy that clearly sets out the different elements of the ballot design and supports voters’ voting activities.

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