It’s election time and you want to build a tool that helps people choose who to vote for. Or perhaps you’re planning a resource that highlights the differences between parties.

Unfortunately, once started, these often prove to be complicated projects. Fortunately, we’ve had some experience with them! (Vote for Policies, which we developed in time for the UK’s 2017 General Election, being one of our latest).

So to keep your own project on track, here’s our top recommendations to help your resource be a success.

Tips for UX and design

1. Manifesto detail vs happy UX

The more policy pledges you include, the more demands you will make upon the user for interacting with your tool. Their cognitive load and time required will increase.

So you’ll need to find a balance between UX (i.e. reducing drop off) and providing enough policy detail (being comprehensive).

2. Help your users with the big words

Manifestos will be full of terminology, acronyms and other difficult language, despite any distilling you may have done. A simple supporting dictionary (e.g. via rollover tooltip) can make the experience much less confusing and will reduce dropoff.

3. Build trust

Give users the option of spinning off to read the manifestos directly themselves. Chances are that they won’t, but having links to them on the site where they are referenced instills trust.

4. Comparisons are harder on mobile

If your intention is to compare pledges and policies side by side, remember that mobile devices make such layouts hard to accomplish.

And if this is a campaign tool, you are especially likely to have traffic mostly via social media, which means the audience will be overwhelmingly mobile.

You’ll need a creative solution here.

5. Declutter

Manifestos being what they are, your resource is likely to be text heavy and mentally intensive. So cut back on all other elements to reduce that cognitive burden. Keep calls to action clear.

Also, use party political colours and logos as a way to cut down on text elements.

Tech and future planning

6. Plan for traffic spikes

Consider a hosting solution that will scale well (e.g. AWS).

7. Avoid short timeouts

If your tool is quite in depth, there’s a chance that users will take a long time pondering and discussing the options, never mind working their way through the entire experience.

So, make sure that there are no time outs in the data capture which will force them to go back and start again or that will lose you data.

8. Build for the future

There may be other elections, or other projects you want to repurpose your tool for. So build in such a way that makes this easier rather than rebuilding from scratch

a) Choose a language which will be around a long time and has a wide pool of developer resources.

b) Ensure it is built in such a way that it’s easy to update the code

c) Ensure it’s easy to amend the policies either in the same context (e.g. another UK election) or in a new one entirely (e.g. for an election in another country).

Working with the manifestos


Photo: Public domain

9. Manifesto delays happen and can impact on your project

Parties often miss their own manifesto launch dates.

Be aware that this might happen in your case, so build flexibility into your build, launch and marketing plans.

Also, be prepared that parties may suddenly change how they organise their manifestos. For example, in the 2017 election, UKIP produced a separate, unexpected manifesto for Wales in the immediate run-up to the election. You may be faced with a similar scenario!

10. You will spend longer turning the manifestos and pledges into content than you think. (Although this is probably a good thing)

It may seem obvious, but manifestos are detailed and complicated and there is a real risk of mis-communicating what the parties are trying to say. You MUST invest significant time to distill the manifestos in a way that is accurate and impartial.

11. Think carefully how you will organise policy topics

Let’s say your resource asks voters to choose what topics they are interested in as a way of helping them rate the various policies and pledges (e.g. Health, Economy, Immigration).

Now when you are distilling the manifestos into content, you’ll need to decide how to categorise the pledges topics. And this will have impacts on the UX and data structure.

For example:

  • Do you have separate policy categories or combine them? For example, Pensions and Retirement, or Pensions AND Retirement.
    • If you combine them: the user journey through your app could be longer as users will now be answering questions / exploring data about both of these areas (Pensions and Retirement) rather than one.
    • If they are separate: you will need to think about which category a policy pledge belongs to. For example, should a pledge come under Policies or Retirement? Or should it be listed twice?
  • And be prepared that pledges often cross topic areas, so you’ll need to decide how to address these scenarios.
  • If you are including a pledge across multiple topics, what does this mean for your final data and how any ‘result’ is calculated?
  • Not every party has the same number of pledges: which may be an issue if you’re asking users to pick the policies of party A, B, or C. Sometimes party B won’t have much to say about this issue. So how will this affect design and how final results are calculated?

We hope that helps you plan your own election resources and policy explorers! And as a bonus, here are a few of the resources we encountered during the 2017 UK General Election. If you know of any more, let us know!

Vote for Policies (we made this!)
Unelectable (and this! Check on mobile for the best experience!)
Position Dial
Please.Represent.Me’s Who Should I Vote For resource
Which Candidate Wales