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Blog Post

Design for Democracy

3 minutes

One of the things I’ve always loved about design is its capacity to change the world around us. Here at Rule29, using this power of design for good is core to who we are; it’s baked into our values. Sometimes that takes the form of raising awareness, supporting a worthy cause, or encouraging positive action. But in other cases, we apply design to the tactical, often ignored elements of society, in order to fundamentally improve a core process. That’s how we developed an expertise in civic and elections design.

Democracy is a design problem

Our country is founded upon the ideal of the power of a single vote. Unfortunately, that ideal is damaged when people are disenfranchised by poor design decisions. As our colleague Dana Chisnell likes to say, “Democracy is a design problem.

Bad design can make it hard for voters to get registered, hard to cast a ballot, or even hard to be certain you’re voting as you intend to. You’ve probably heard of the critical design flaws in the infamous butterfly ballot from Florida — that may have changed the outcome of a national presidential election. But there’s countless other design problems out there, thwarting people’s constitutional right to vote.

We sweat the “small” stuff — because it changes history

That’s where we’ve stepped in. We’re using the power of design to make voting easier, clearer, and more accessible. (It’s worth noting that we do this work on a strictly non-partisan basis; we believe everyone should have the opportunity to make their voice heard.)

  • New York State voter registration form
    We simplified voter registration for 19 million New Yorkers. Using consistent visual cues, straightforward labeling, and clearly defined navigation, we reimagined New York’s voter registration form, making it infinitely more usable than previous versions.
  • National ballot design standards
    We worked with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to help create best practice ballot design standards for nationwide use. Serving on a core design and research team, we designed, tested, and refined guidelines to help election administrators around the country develop the best possible ballots.
  • Nationwide vote-by-mail envelope design
    Spurred by the pandemic, voting by mail has become highly popular. Over the past few years, we’ve worked with states and counties across the country to develop a flexible envelope design template that improves USPS automation, supports officials in running trustworthy elections, and — most importantly — works better for voters.

We’ve also applied design thinking and implementation to a broad range of other election-related projects including voter information materials, polling place signage, elections office websites, and more.

Design makes an impact

What’s affirming about doing this work is that we can also directly see its effectiveness. Time and time again, we’re seeing objective, quantifiable data that confirms we’re making measurable improvements. We have proof we’re making voting more usable and trustworthy.

We’re proud of being able to work on elections design — it allows us to harness the power of design for good on a national scale. What’s more, it aligns perfectly with our commitment to being a Certified B Corporation. Because what better way to empower people than to help them exercise a fundamental right?

Now the last part is up to you; it’s time to get registered and get out there and vote!


Drew Davies is the Chief Creative Officer at Rule29. He served as the Design Director for AIGA Design for Democracy for 10 years, and testified to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration established by Barack Obama.