The beauty of going analog with Scantron ballots.

At the close of the Let’s Connect exhibition the Scantron ballots were loaded into the trunk of a car and driven to Lancaster, PA to be scanned at a processing facility.

Steve Brady, our CTO at the Barnes, loaded the ballots into his car and drove them to Lancaster, PA for scanning at a Scantron facility.

I will admit the idea that we were carrying ballots to a car and driving them somewhere to be scanned was a bit unfathomable given how much digital work we do. That said, the use of Scantron has given me a chance to reflect on its user experience, and my own.

Ballots arrive at the Scantron facility in Lancaster, PA.

One of the most stunning things came from watching people in the exhibition totally focused on the task at hand. More often than not the gallery experience was people looking at art, studying their choices, and then filling in circles using a #2 pencil and a clipboard. Most often we’d see the cameras come out only after the ballot had been cast. There was plenty of photo taking, but it seemed as if it was a secondary experience used as a final way to memorialize the exhibition and the works they preferred. People were looking at art first, moving to the ballot second — it was a beautiful thing to see.

Very typical experience in the Let’s Connect galleries. More ballots and clipboard action than phones taking photos.

I couldn’t help but notice that my own experience changed considerably. In prior projects, the voting was accomplished through digital means. I would monitor progress using a leaderboard enabling me to see the standings minute-to-minute. The use of Scantron made for a quiet and much more mindful experience — I was interacting on a level not biased by the standings. I was in the moment with no more knowlege than anyone else. This was a refreshing change.

Participants would check in and get a ballot.

The ballots also served another function — they created a common language among participants. Participants were assigned a ballot when they checked in, would stand in line with ballot in hand, and were seen walking through our collection with them. Scantron ballots, more than anything else, created a visual language common to everyone taking part in Let’s Connect.

Everyone headed into Let’s Connect had a ballot creating a visual language throughout the Barnes.

The UX of Scantron was simple and clear; just about everyone knew what to do with these. It wasn’t always perfect. We could tell instantly when a voter was of a pre-Scantron age; we’d sometimes see checkmarks, stray pencil marks, or bubbling over the circle — things that would drive any teacher totally nuts. But, for the most part, people executed this task with the military-like precision that could only be baked into our brains from all those years in primary school.

At the end of every night, we’d count ballots and clean up stray marks. This, too, was a manual task — an almost meditative one where you could see what was accomplished in a day.

Nightly cleanup to count ballots and catch stray pencil marks that might confuse the scanner.

We hope the use of Scantron also helped heal some of the residual PTSD that standardized testing has brought to so many. We received plenty of comments about the SAT, but so many participants had a good laugh about it.

Brooke Davis Anderson, the Edna S. Tuttleman Director of the Museum at PAFA and one of the Let’s Connect curators, along with her husband, Jay having some fun dropping their ballots in our ballot box. That’s an IKEA locker with some fun vinyl messaging and a slot cut into the top.

During the two week period the exhibition was open, 2,226 ballots were submitted and 21,658 votes were cast. Voters were told to vote for at least three things they liked and, in the end, they liked a lot more — an average of 9.7 selections per ballot. That’s a lot of “bubbling in.”


Let’s Connect is a project of the Barnes Foundation in partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia.​

Artist Open Call: March 19–April 30, 2018
Exhibition: May 21–June 4, 2018
Artist Announcement: June 14, 2018
Artist Residencies: July 1, 2018–June 30, 2019

www.letsconnectphilly.org