Making voters matter

The lowest voter turnout in 40 years is a sure sign that Millennials have “checked out of America’s political system.” With feelings of distrust and disillusionment about their government’s leaders, how can technology restore trust and motivate young voters?

Aug. – Sept. 2015


Tyler Hayes
Morgan McDonnell


Design research*
Coding in Axure

*After a joint research phase, we separated to produce three individual apps, based on our same concept.


How might we leverage local elections to encourage new voters to engage in the civic process?

Rock the (local) vote

It’s hard to ignore the grandeur and spectacle that accompany national and state elections, but municipal elections aren’t so lucky. Local politics are often overshadowed, yet the actions of our mayors and city councilors affect every inch of our daily lives. From public transportation to police and fire protection, it is at this level where technology can have the greatest impact in engaging young voters in the civic process.

Source: Circle Analysis of Census Current Population Survey November Supplement, 1978–2014

Voter turnout diagram
nc political map gif


An issue close to home

Watching the political polarization escalate in my home state, North Carolina, underscores the need for an effective voting resource for Millennials. North Carolina has suffered from no shortage of news coverage on this escalation: the state has long been home to the least competitive elections in the country and recently received a failing grade for its election quality and democratic health. The list goes on, and on. Here in North Carolina, voting matters more than ever.

Image Sources: US Census Bureau, NC State Board of Elections, and Which Way NC

Get at the heart of the matter

We conducted over a dozen qualitative interviews across a range of political involvement, and social activism. We talked to participants and subject experts. These interviews revealed an unexpected complexity to low youth voter turnout: guilt. When voting in local elections, many young voters are conflicted: they want to vote, but when making a decision about a candidate, information overload takes its hold. News comes from all angles, conflicting and unreliable. It’s overwhelming and dilutes a new voter’s interest in showing up at the polls.

benchmarking precedent studies and market analysis


Finding our niche

We searched for what apps already existed that were similar to our mission. We discovered that existing precedents were either for non-election use or for following active legislation, but nothing in-between. Neither were any of these apps dedicated to municipal politics. It seemed that we had found our niche: An app for use during the 2-3 month lead up to election day, on a municipal level, offering direct contact with local leaders.

persona 1persona 2persona 3

Finding our niche user

We crafted three personas that referenced common trends among our interview participants. Each persona was placed on a graph (below) measuring their involvement in political and social issues.

persona spectrum graph
task flow and wireframe sketches


Build trust and an open dialogue

To engage our friends and peers in municipal politics, the process had to feel personal yet objective, it had to be simple yet substantive. To deliver this balance, we centered our app around a municipal Ask Me Anything forum, where users question candidates in AMA forums during the 2-3 month lead up to a local election.

First popularized on Reddit, Ask Me Anything (AMAs) allow users to ask anything to a selected public figure during a schedule time. Apply this formula to municipal politicians running for office, and you get an open platform for candidates to answer questions directly from their constituents and be held accountable to answer.

user journey map


Our user’s journey

Our experience map focused on alleviating the guilt and distrust that young voters experience as they become informed, active voters. Our map imagined how they might instead experience this process. By having a direct line to candidates through our Ask Me Anything forums, an online community that ensures only the most relevant questions are asked (by up-voting or down-voting questions), and ensures their questions are answered.


Make to learn

After creating an Invision prototype, I used Lookback to record user tests. The results revealed some key insights: In an effort to make the app lightweight and easy to use, by relying on only top-level navigation, a larger orienting structure to the app was lost.

final mock up photofinal mock up photofinal mock up photofinal mock up photo



CitySquare, a name that connotes feelings of small communities, shared gathering places, and the exchange of local news. In color, I infused electric energy into the traditional red and blue political palette, and symbolically presented the two colors as a spectrum, blending and overlapping.

final task flow and app architecture diagram


Choose candidates, ask questions

For use in the 2 months leading up to a local election, CitySquare’s architecture reflects its use. It’s lightweight and easy to use, with a focus on presenting substantive information, simply.

In The Ballot, key facts give our audience an immediate impression of a candidate: through a 140 character stump speech, key endorsements, and fundraising totals. The Square follows suit, with all questions and answers being limited to a tweet-sized response. This ensures that candidates and users get to the heart of the matter, fast.

axure mockup


Learning Axure

For this project I taught myself the basics of Axure. Axure is a prototyping software that, instead of asking you to code, lets you mock up interactions by crafting a series of basic logic statements. The Scratch of the digital prototyping world.


The Ballot and the Square

Two walkthroughs illustrate the basic functionality of CitySquare’s ballot function, and its AMA forum known as the Square.