New electionlineWeekly Looks at Minneapolis’ “Sign of the Times”

[Image via electionline]

My friend Mindy Moretti has a great story in the latest electionlineWeekly newsletter about a collaboration in Minneapolis that’s bringing designers and election officials together on a project to benefit voters:

If there is one thing election workers know, it’s that necessity is the mother of invention.

When poll workers at a polling site located at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) realized that the signs provided by the city weren’t quite as helpful as they could be, they added their own supplemental signage on polling days.

At the same time, Tim Schwarz, election administrator for the City of Minneapolis and his colleagues were discussing an overhaul of the mandated and supplemental hodgepodge of signage there were using.

While there was nothing technically wrong with the information presented on the signage, Schwarz said there was a real dissonance resulting from inconsistent fonts, colors, sizes and overall readability of the signs. With the hodgepodge display of signs, it didn’t look professional and information was not being presented in an easily consumable, consistent format.

“I don’t believe we were getting many complaints, per se, but I honestly think most voters ignored much of the signage being thrown at them — it was just a swirl of colors and poor design on multiple, mixed-size posters,” Schwarz said.

Inspired by the work students at the Rhode Island School of Design were doing with election signage and seeing the materials that MCAD was producing for their on-campus polling site Schwarz said the department knew they wanted to establish some more uniformity and clean design in their own signage.

The city partnered with MCAD’s in-house design firm, DesignWorks, which involves staff and students working with outside clients on real world design solutions, to create a whole new series of voting signage in about six months.

Staff at MCAD used the Design for Democracy principles via the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) as their guidepost during the entire process.  The Secretary of State’s Office was also involved, providing feedback and information and joining meetings at key points along the way.

“Good civic design should be accessible to everyone. We hope that members of the design-for-good community are inspired to build upon the work MCAD has done to help create a better voting experience for citizens nationwide,” MCAD president Jay Coogan said in a statement.

The new signage, in multiple languages, rolled out during the 2016 election season and was well received.

“Reaction has been very positive,” Schwarz said. “I think we’ve heard some nice anecdotal responses from voters via the election workers. And many of our election judges have given us kudos for making the polls look more professional and providing easy to digest info for them and for the voters.”

The project was so well received in Minneapolis, the Secretary of State’s Office has joined the partnership and, it will be rolled out statewide in 2018. And possibly elsewhere.

“Once we decided to pursue this redesign, we decided it would be our goal to share the work with not only the state, but to other jurisdictions that wanted to utilize the designs, at no cost, via a creative commons license,” Schwarz said.

The state was already supplying a number of mandated signs to post at all polling locations, and they will continue to provide such printed signs, albeit the newly designed versions. In addition to the mandated signs the state will be printing and providing, digital files for other supplemental signs and designs are available to any other jurisdiction to access, modify and use, if they chose to do so.     

“Minnesota’s election system continues to be a role model for the nation, and the implementation of these improved signs with important voting information will help further ensure a consistent voting experience across the state,” Secretary of State Steve Simon said in a statement.

For those interested in using Minneapolis’ files, Schwarz said his office is happy to speak with anyone about it.

“We’re happy to speak with anyone about this project,” Schwarz said. “It’s great to be able to share and to see what others are doing across the country. We’re hopeful that this project will be useful to other elections teams out there!”

For those looking to go out on their own with regard to sign design, he recommends getting a copy of Design for Democracy: Ballot and Election Design by Marcia Lausen and also copies of the Center for Civic Design’s Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent.

And in the most exciting news, it is even possible to customize “I Voted” stickers right down to polling place. Yes, you read that correctly! 

“What we wanted to do was to provide the files of all the signage and the design elements to any jurisdiction to modify and use in their town/county,” Schwarz explained. “There is a stars/bars design pattern available, which is used mainly on some outdoor signage and on the wayfinding signage here in Minneapolis, and also a sticker design that could be a simple ‘I Voted’ sticker or customized for a particular poll or town or anything else!”

How about that? Customized “I Voted” stickers. These are heady times.

As I’ve written several times in the past, election design is quickly becoming a must-have skill for election officials. That’s why our Certificate in Election Administration program includes a course on election design with Field Guides authors Dana Chisnell and Whitney Quesenbery – you can see how much you can do when you apply design thinking to election work!

Thanks to the folks in Minneapolis for sharing their story and to Mindy for putting it together for the field  … have a safe and happy weekend and stay tuned!

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