Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Getting Out The Vote

Recently I was part of a conversation about basic voter apathy leading to extreme parties having representatives in local coucils, that ended with "but of course those people can't go to the polls but they will all vote for [X-Factor / American Idol / Big Brother / Strictly Come Dancing / Dancing With The Stars winner]" Well, yes, and if you look at voting as a usability issue, it's very clear why:
  1. The alternatives are presented very clearly and together. All contestants are together at a predictable time, attacking the same problem (singing a song by a composer, entertaining, being an amusing idiot) with the same tools.
  2. There is guiding meta-commentary. Ok, maybe you do not like the judging panel, but they at least focus on what the issues are, don't let people get away with mediocrity or handwaving, and help voters to focus on the issues at hand, (or at the very least make viewers tune in watch the Vicodin trainwreck).
  3. Following the 'debate' is pleasant. The shows employ the best people to make sure the 'debate' is something you want to see. The camera work is top-notch, the director keeps the rhythm going, the set is exciting, everyone does their best not to put the viewers to sleep and keep them involved, pumping them up to vote.
  4. Voting is comfortable. You do it from your own home with your own tools that you know.
  5. Voting is presented clearly. The absolutely best people at explaining technology to uncommitted users are employed to make short eye-catching video segments with glitz and animation to show people how to text for a specific winner. These segments are repeated often.
  6. Voting is made fun. The whole atmosphere around getting the vote out and the voting itself is full of enthusiasm and joy.
Now, the results of the voting are actually not that good; not every winner has fulfilled their promise as a celebrity or entertainer. Plenty of them have, though, so the voting public is not too bad at this actually. But if you look at the problem of voter apathy as a usability professional, as someone with the mindset of "What do I need to do to get people to fulfill this task?", (how do I present the task, how do I structure the task, what messaging do I need to put around the task, how do I influence the attitudes around the task) it really seems like the whole environment of going to the polls, of voting in local or national politics, actually does a lot of work to drive people away from participating by making the environment boring, the debate hard to understand, and the process difficult.