How simple design decisions can make the difference between a polite decline and giving things a go
Automatic Voter Registration — The right hook at the right time
Whitney led us through work she has done to encourage more people to vote in US elections. This has involved signing people up for voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), because for most Americans, their driving licence is their main form of identification. As such, any changes in personal details — also a common cause for dropping off the voter register — usually require a trip to the DMV office.
Initial efforts to encourage voter registration at the DMV generated poor results. The script that desk clerks used to introduce the concept was dry and bureaucratic. Users saw it as another barrier to getting out of the stuffy government office and back home. Whitney’s team paid close attention to the language of the script and developed a revised version that was simpler, more direct and generated much better outcomes. As Whitney told me,
“Our goal was to change an awkward legal paragraph into a more human exchange. Without getting too far from the statutory language, we made it active and direct: ‘I’ll use the information you’ve given me today,’ instead of ‘The information you have provided will be used.’ The rewrite was a little bit longer, but easier to say. We wanted words that can be said smoothly, even smiling, not just a tongue-twister to get past.”
This compelling case study made me think of a similar experience that we’ve had recently at Good Things.
Advertising Funding Opportunities — Smoothing the path for the user
Through our partnership with TalkTalk, we have been working with organisations in our Online Centres Network who haven’t yet received funding from us. We’ve offered grants of £2,000 to community organisations who will use the funds to help vulnerable people build their digital confidence.
The project is organised into 2 waves with separate application windows, five months apart. During Wave 1, we didn’t receive as many applications from Online Centres as we’d hoped. We couldn’t award as many grants as planned, and so held back funds in the hope of receiving more applications during Wave 2.
As design thinkers, we began to question why we got such a low response. We studied the applications that the first wave of Centres submitted and compared them with the materials we had used to describe the project. We also reflected on recent user research we’d conducted with Online Centres staff about how they interact with our websites. Two things became clear:
- The language we used to introduce the project made sense to us, but did not resonate with a majority of Centres.
- The Centre staff who usually apply for funding opportunities do not have the luxury of time to sit and digest content that is hidden away or that doesn’t immediately speak to them.
Much as Whitney’s team found, it didn’t take too much time or effort to adapt the application’s wording to make it more of an inviting prospect for Wave 2. Applying principles of good content design and studying applicants’ own terminology in Wave 1 submissions, we rewrote the project materials to place relevant information front and centre stage in accessible language. We rewrote the application questions to provide guidance in areas that might have previously been unclear. For example:
Please tell us about how you would evaluate the project.
Measuring Impact: Please tell us about how you will capture evidence that shows how well your project is working.
We removed references to ‘innovative digital inclusion projects’ and spoke instead about building digital confidence for vulnerable groups. Bearing in mind the feedback about time-poor centre staff, we also invested time in producing a more visually engaging application process with a prominent call to action.
The results were even better than we’d anticipated. From receiving only 9 applications in Wave 1, we reached the Wave 2 application deadline with a total of 47 applications — over 5 times as many. The applications were of a much more consistent quality, and we were able to award the remaining grants that we’d kept behind after Wave 1. Most importantly, more vulnerable people will now benefit from projects to help them get online and remain safe as they do so.
These stories demonstrate why putting the user at the heart of all design decisions has established itself as such an important approach to use in my work. It’s one that I’ll continue to carry with me.