Can technology help us navigate a complicated political system?

When’s the last time you took action on an issue you cared about?

For me, it’s almost never. While I am constantly oversaturated with articles and opinions on social media, I rarely see a way to take action on the issues that matter most. When a friend told me about the Countable app that lets you share your opinion on bills going through Congress with your local representatives, I was excited to check it out for myself.

First Impressions

There’s tons of great information in the app, but not all of it was immediately digestible. When I voted on an issue, there was no indication that my representative had been notified, which I thought was the main purpose of the app (for more on voting outcomes and notifications, check out the full case study in my portfolio).

I suspected others might experience similar confusion understanding and navigating the app, so I conducted some guerrilla usability tests to get a better sense of the landscape.

Note: I’m an iOS user and did testing only on the iOS app. This is also a personal project, I am not affiliated with Countable.

The Interviews

I tested seven iOS users who had never used Countable before. After asking some background questions on interest levels in news and politics, I asked users to perform four tasks centered around finding political issues they cared about and contacting their representatives about those issues.

Immediately, a big problem jumped out at me: users couldn’t find the content they were looking for. In fact, 5/7 users tried to pull down on the issues screen, pictured below, expecting a search bar to appear.

“You would expect the search bar to be at the top.”

Synthesis

After reviewing the interview recordings and jotting down notes, I was ready to analyze the information I’d gathered. I wrote down users’ pain points on post-it notes, grouped them based on similarities between users, and decided which problems to solve based on what would have the greatest impact on the user and on Countable.

Note: Since I don’t work for Countable, I made some assumptions as to what was important to them. My main assumptions were that:

  • Countable’s Unique Value Proposition (UVP) is simplifying the congressional process to make it easier for people to take action on the issues they care about.
  • Anything that makes Countable’s UVP difficult to understand is of high importance to fix.
  • If given a list of problems to fix, the one that is easiest to fix and yields the highest impact (around users understanding Countable’s UVP) would be solved first.

Now, back to synthesis! Here’s what the process looked like:

First, I wrote out pain points users had on post-it notes, assigning a different color to each user.

Next, I grouped the post-its based on common problems and labeled them to get a bird’s eye view of the problems these interviews had surfaced.

Third, I plotted the pain point groups on a 2x2 graph with user needs on the X axis and business needs on the Y axis. The pain points that fell in the top right quadrant were most important to both the user and to Countable (based on my assumptions listed above).

Identifying the most common pain point

Whether it was finding a political issue they cared about, or checking in on their local representative, people could not find what they were looking for in the app. Many users expected there to be a search bar at the top of both the home page and the political issues page to search for specific topics.

Interestingly, Countable does already have a search bar in the app, but it’s under the “more” icon on the far right of the navigation bar and only one user found it, after a lot of trial and error. This is what it currently looks like:

The Proposed Solution

In response to users not being able to find information they were looking for, I brought Countable’s current search function to the forefront of the app and replaced the issues icon with a search icon in the main navigation bar.

Here’s what the screen looked like before (left) and after (right):

The scope bar filters search for users based on the main types of content in the Countable app: issues, bills, lawmakers, and user profiles.

My hypothesis for this solution is that by making the filtered search function a prominent feature in the app, users will be able to more quickly find information and understand the type of information Countable offers. My success metric to test this hypothesis is that 7/7 users will be able to find an issue, bill, or lawmaker they care about on the first try.

Validation

I tested my search solution on 7 iOS users, three of whom had seen the app before, but weren’t super familiar with it. When given the scenario, “Imagine you really care about animals and want to learn more about what’s going on in congress that affects animals. How would you find that out?”, 7/7 users successfully completed the task by clicking on the search icon and clicking on Animals.

Next Steps

This redesign is by no means the only solution, and further rounds of testing and iteration would be useful to generate more solutions.

Beyond identifying the pain points of Countable, I also got to experience people’s reactions to the overall concept. Users were pleasantly surprised that something like Countable exists, which not only helps you voice your opinion, but also helps make your voice and opinion heard.

I was encouraged to see this feedback, and see great potential for Countable to give its users agency over a confusing political system.

As an added bonus, I also learned about a few new bills moving through congress during the design process. To start reading up on bills affecting you, check out Countable in the App Store or on Google Play.

Thanks for reading! I welcome any and all feedback on this process in the comments or by email at emcatbell@gmail.com.

For more Countable redesigns, check out the full case study here.