The Hillary Clinton app is one of the best digital organizing tools ever made

Dan Carson
Oct 13, 2016 · 9 min read

I’m not going to bury the lede: the Hillary Clinton app is one of, if not the best digital organizing tool that’s ever been made. Not ever made by a campaign — best period.

The digital organizing space has seen lots of innovation in the past decade or so, when it really began to take off. Most of the big gains have been made at the presidential campaign level, beginning famously with Howard Dean in 2004, and becoming more well known through Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Things like MyBO, BSD Tools, National Field, and Dashboard are all products of those campaigns.

Simultaneously there has also been a lot of progress made in the private sector, with NGP VAN, Nationbuilder, Amicus, and now Hustle leading the way.

These apps have all attempted to combine “online with offline” in different ways, using different tactics. I’m here to show you why Hillary Clinton’s app does it better than all that have come before.

Why should you care what I have to say?

I’ve spent twelve years designing tools for digital engagement, with the past five focused specifically on political engagement and mobile design. I’m currently the lead designer at a company called Crowdpac where I design tools to democratize the political process through crowdfunding and voter information. Prior to that I helped design a mobile commerce platform that was acquired by Paypal, worked at to launch their Decision Maker platform, and spent 14 months as Lead Designer on the 2012 Obama campaign, where I helped launch Dashboard, one of the most ambitious combinations of digital and field organizing that had been attempted up until that point. In between I’ve worked with dozens of political campaigns, non profits, and corporations on engaging their supporters.

So, uh, why should I care about the Hillary app?

The Hillary app does many different things that we can learn from. Things that would benefit almost every digital engagement product out there, political or not. I want to focus on five major things that I think the app does very well, how they do it, and why it matters.

1) It makes new users feel welcome

A great app will make you feel welcome as soon as you open it, not like you’re a dummy who doesn’t know which buttons to press. As soon as you launch the app, it’s like you walked into your local field office. The app does have an account creation barrier, which I am typically not a fan of. But in the case of a political campaign, having a way to contact your people is paramount. So in this case, I think it’s worth the likely decrease in conversions for the increased value of each user. In the end I think they struck the right balance by showing you what it will be like once you do come in:

Once you’re in, here’s how they make the first time experience great:

By letting me learn by doing

Coming into the app, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous. Is this going to be just another list of blog posts and a donate button? Oh… Huh. It’s actually a very colorful room that looks like a field office. I can scroll around, look at stuff, and I can tap on it. Cool!

By explaining points and rewards

The core behavior of the app revolves around daily activities that earn you points. Those points determine your place on different competitive leaderboards, but also translate into virtual goods like avatars, office decorations, and furniture. It’s pretty cool, but it’s also sort of complicated. The app does a great job making me aware of what to expect.

By integrating with my contacts to create a more social and familiar experience

Asking for permission to sync with a person’s address book can be dicey. These permissions have been abused many times before, and as a result people can be wary of them. The good part is the experience of using the app doesn’t fall apart if you decline to allow those permissions. If you accept, you’re rewarded in a way that doesn’t feel like you were taken advantage of.

2) It looks and works like a game, not a website

If you want to be responsible for setting the world record for eye rolling, all you have to do is suggest, “we should add badges.” That’s because gamification is typically applied in a superficial way, as a thin veneer of “fun” that ultimately distracts from the core actions. Not so with the Hillary app. While it does include standard fare like badges and stars, earning them is tied to objectively important things like committing to vote, sharing content with my social network, or attending an event. Earning the badges makes me feel like I’m contributing to the cause, not just screwing around on my phone.

Badges that don’t suck

The badges themselves are clever and refer back to Hillary herself, with names like Diplomat, Secretary of State, and Ambassador.

Competitions by locality, and social graph

One of the rewards for syncing with my Facebook account and address book is that all of the competitions are enhanced with those social connections. This is a great example of improving the experience for your power users. Jesse, you’re doing great.

Show me the mountain top

It’s a tall task to ask someone to take this journey with you, to complete dozens of actions day after day. Many people are likely to give up. So it’s important to give them a glimpse of what they’re working towards. One of the ways the app does this is by showing you a fully tricked out field office. That chair looks nice. Nice use of core platform references as well: LGBT Rights, Criminal Justice Reform, etc.

Tap into the lizard brain

I don’t care how many times I see it, filling my screen with stars after I finish something makes me feel great. Sweet, sweet, dopamine.

It also employs a reverse tactic of deducting points whenever you decide to skip one of the daily challenges. It’s sinister and brilliant, and I’ll never skip anything again, promise.

3) It encourages people to take valuable actions

The coin of the digital engagement realm is the “ladder of engagement,” or the sequence of actions you want your supporters to take, in ascending order of value. There’s also the matrix of engagement which is a similar but non-linear version of the same concept. The Hillary app’s interface design does a better job of mapping to that matrix than any other app I’ve used.

What does that look like?

Countdown to election day is front and center

Every time I open the app, the first thing I see is how many days are left. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that there isn’t any time to waste.

Commit to vote

Research has shown that simply getting your people to commit to vote has a direct correlation to their likelihood to vote. If you’ve ever attended a campaign event or had a canvasser knock on your door, you’ll recognize these cards. For everything else a campaign does, it all comes back to votes. Nothing is more important.

Find and go to local events

The app does a great job leveraging my phone’s location to surface local events of all types, and indicating which are official. No need for me to enter a ZIP Code or street address.

Learn more about Hillary

One of my favorite actives are the duo-lingo style flashcards that deliver me facts about Hillary. It’s a great counterbalance to all of the negativity of a campaign, but also a fun way to quickly internalize and remember why “I’m with her.”

Provide important contrast and background on her opponent

Trump is gross, ‘nuff said. Will version 2.0 include crowdsourced oppo research?

Recruit others by sharing

The app does a great job fostering a network effect and organic growth by encouraging sharing at every opportunity. Not only does my app experience get better the more friends that use it, but I’m rewarded for bringing them into the fold.

4) It encourages repeat visits

One of the real challenges in product design is creating a desire for people to come back to your app repeatedly. The Hillary team has done a fantastic job adding all kinds of micro and macro interactions that do just that.

New challenges

Every time I come back, I can pick up right where I left off or start something new.

Silly stuff like watering plants, and feeding the dog

It’s not all about homework either. As I explore the office I find all kinds of easter eggs and quick ways to earn more points, like by watering the plants again or feeding the dog. After I’ve fed it I can keep petting it. What did we do to deserve dogs?

5) It reflects the real world volunteer experience

This is illustrated through many of the screenshots above, and it is my favorite part about the entire concept of this app. It brings the experience of walking into a local field office to the palm of millions of people. A field office is a unique place, the local footprint of a national organization. If you live in a battleground state like Ohio or Florida there’s a good chance you are within driving or even walking distance of an office, where you can meet and interact with fellow supporters.

But there are millions of people for whom that’s not possible, and it’s brilliant to deliver on that in such a literal way inside the app. Dozens of apps have tried to do this in the past, including products I’ve designed. “Let’s make it the online field office.” But they always end up looking like websites, not a field office. It’s ambitious to try a new approach, because if you don’t execute perfectly the result could be really, really bad. So, major props to the entire team for setting out to create something special and absolutely knocking it out of the park.

If you think so too, head to the website and show your support. There’s less than a month to go:

Get the app here:

Dan Carson

Written by

Head of Design and UX at Crowdpac. Former Design Lead on Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.