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Project VOTIO

A 6-month project focused on research + design + concept value testing.  Our team of 4 (Mamiko Hirose, Julie Mills, John Zoshak and myself) was highly collaborative and complimentary with 2 designers and 2 researchers.  My most important contributions were in articulating our research methods, data analysis, ideation, test plans and script writing for our video and presentation.


We chose this problem space in January 2020.  The team was interested civic participation and while doing our literature review, found census bureau data on low voter turn-out of 18-24 y/o voters.  Being an election year, we wanted to explore this topic and design a solution to increase voter participation.  


We wondered: what might the barriers and motivators be for new voters and began with a broad research question:


Research WORK 

Our study recruited 56 young adults, ages 18 to 25, to participate in a qualitative study.  We used a mix of methods starting with online surveys, participant sketching activities and semi-structured interviews. We chose the methodology of constructivist grounded theory to allow ourselves latitude to follow the data and to account for our role as researchers engaging in this space.  


We performed a general literature review to develop areas of inquiry for our online survey. The anonymous survey was distributed in college slack channels and through acquaintances. We also created a second version of this same survey that was available to voters on the day of the WA State primary.  This was a plan B idea for a participatory activity we had planned to facilitate on that day, but were unable to accomplish due to COVID-19 precautions. We called this the "Survey Chair" and voters could scan a QR code to access the survey.


Responses to the survey helped us arrive at a baseline for attitudes and provided direction on topics to probe in our interviews.


We began our interviews with a sketching activity that I designed.  This was an effective trust-building exercise allowing the participant to guide the conversation and created openings for follow-up questions. Our participants consistently told a story about moving, self-discovery and tackling ‘firsts’ (job, credit card, lease, living alone). Some participants referred to this transition period of becoming an adult, as ‘adulting’.  We loved that term.


In our interviews we expected to find 'voters' and 'non-voters', however, after conducting several interviews we re-framed our perspective based on what we were learning.  There was no such thing as a non-voter.  All our participants were voters, but some were more able and motivated to action on their right to vote.


To synthesize our data we used agile thematic analysis and collaboratively sorted through data using Miro. Color coding each participant's data allowed us to identify data back to its source and visualize patterns. We layered in our survey results and sorted into themes and sub-themes in a time-boxed collaborative activity.  We also drafted user journey maps but that format did not express new insights.


Each team member reflected on the collaborative time-boxed activity and summarized findings in individualized thematic analysis documents.


Our A-HA finding came from a teammate reflecting on the interviews, participants really enjoy talking about voting.  How might we harness this positive experience in our solution?

Here is what we heard:


Design WORK 

Each team member worked individually to sketch possible design solutions.  Together, we reviewed and discussed the sketches and grouped similar ideas.  We identified one of my sketches: 'voter brew' as as jumping off point.  The idea was to take a socially relevant object and put voter information on it intended to start a conversation between friends. 


We expanded on the different facets of the idea. What reflective prompts might spark conversation? What online content would engage users? What was the voice of our online experience?  

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As we continued to iterate on the idea, we grounded the effectiveness of it in The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (TTM). The first three stages of TTM (precontemplation, contemplation, and preparation) aligned with the direction we were heading. Specifically, we believed our design would accomplish 3 of the 5 steps that lead to behavior change:

* conscious raising (getting voters to think about voting) 

* self re-evaluation (prompting reflection about their attitudes and behaviors)

* self efficacy (helping people obtain the skills to perform the action).

The Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (TTM):


TESTING our Work 

We created two artifacts to our behavior change system-- stickers that could be placed on any beverage or elsewhere and an online experience for learning about government.  We created a test plan to vet the types of reflective prompts that would spark good discussions and a digital prototype using Figma to validate content preferences and UI organization.  By now, COVID 19 had the state of WA in lockdown and we did all our testing remotely. We wanted participants to have genuine conversations and designed an unmoderated test that participants video recorded. To test the online content, we used the think-aloud protocol and asked a set of structured questions as they moved through the digital prototype.

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Our testing participants responded positively to the idea of moving from the object to an online experience





By putting reflection stickers on beverage containers, we are inviting 18-24 year olds to engage in conversations about voting.  Our research showed that when trusted friends talked about the act of voting (and not politics) in a low-key setting, they could comfortably exchange stories, explore their values and voice uncertainties.  The reflection stickers acted as a change agent, offering a QR code to access online content. The online experience focused on providing empathy and actionable next steps that connected voters with opportunities to learn about government and register to vote.


By envisioning this as a system, it can scale to reach many voters and can be adopted by any organizations that wants to promote voting participation. Our Design Guide provides a specification for branding stickers and design principles for emulating online content on an organization’s own website.




We told the story of our product in an immersive presentation that I proposed. We thought our idea would be best explained by experiencing it.  Our audience was asked to imagine hanging out with friends and what might they do if they found that their beer bottles or coffee cups posed questions about voting?  This presentation was persuasive and entertaining. 

We also created a 2-min video that told the story of our product and problem space. Watch on YouTube.


A key to our project’s success was collaboration.  We repeatedly used a process of divergent-convergent teamwork which allowed ideas to build on themselves and get better with iteration.  We trusted the HCDE process which allowed us to work through the research phase without knowing what we might build as a solution.  That took faith.

I would use agile thematic analysis again and I fell in love with Miro as a platform for collaborative data analysis.  

My regrets are that we could not do a primary  election day participatory event that we'd begun to plan when COVID got real. Being in a university community, all our participants were college educated. This common theme really shaped our data and this deficit indicates that there is much more to know about this age group. 

Votio is the project that never really ended and we've partnered with local non-profit, CP Next, and launched @votiofuture on Instagram.  This is a case study unto itself.

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