This past August, 110+ students from 33 Design for America studios across the country gathered at Northwestern for the annual DFA Leadership Studio. Together, they explored, “How can we improve the voting experience?” DFA National decided to revisit this topic of civic engagement as the 2016 election season came to a close.
From Leadership Studio, we learned that voting, a key component of our democracy, is a complicated, evolving system that has both strengths and weaknesses. Because Design for America works to incorporate different perspectives and voices to improve our communities, we wanted to hear from the NU design community and DFAers across the country about their thoughts on the voting process.
To collect feedback at Northwestern, we created an installation in the lobby of the building we call home: the Ford Engineering Design Center. On election day, at least one hundred students shared likes and wishes about this election season by interacting with our installation, and they also received a sticker for contributing!
We observed some common themes among the feedback. Students expressed that they like feeling that their vote counts and appreciated that more people were speaking up and getting involved in the process this year. One student shared, “I like that Northwestern helped with pre-registration and absentee voting,” while others conveyed similar sentiments on getting support from the university, and having a variety of ways to vote.
We also uncovered common themes for what students wish could be improved about voting. Students expressed a desire for less polarization and more accessible and reliable information about candidates, policies, and pressing issues. They also put forth ideas like changing the system of the electoral college or making election day a holiday.
DFA WashU students also created an installation to collect thoughts and ideas around the election season. They were surprised by a common topic across feedback about the voting experience.
“In a student body filled with people that have developed and evolved opinions about the state of politics, economics, the environment, and race relations, many people wrote “voting stickers” as something they liked most about the process,” said Kelly Wisneski, a Studio Lead at DFA WashU. “If voting stickers are what get people excited about an election, then there’s so much more designers can do to create an impact.”
WashU noted the greatest concerns among students were long lines at polling locations and other similar barriers to access for voting.
DFA always seeks opportunities to create positive change, and as we move past election season we will continue to apply human-centered design to increase civic engagement in our local communities.