Civic design is about equality and accessibility. In its election- and ballot-design forms, it’s about trying to ensure that votes get cast as they were intended by the voter. It’s unbiased and non-partisan — because bad ballot design affects all voters. At its core, civic design is an attempt to communicate flawlessly using language and design so that democracy is upheld.

A few months before I started at Oxide — before Drew asked me if I knew anyone who might be interested in the position he described, and I shyly raised my hand and said, “Uh, I think I might be,” and started down the path to what has turned out to be a wonderful decision — Drew also shared my name with someone looking for a proofreader.

That someone was Dana Chisnell, and the project was a report about the Anywhere Ballot.

Anywhere BallotA screen from Anywhere Ballot

Dana and her Center for Civic Design counterpart, Whitney Quesenbery, had teamed up with Oxide on several projects since the creation of an AIGA initiative called Design for Democracy.

The Anywhere Ballot is an onscreen ballot that is designed to be completely accessible for anyone, no matter where they are. This digital ballot interface incorporates all of the best practices our democracy-loving friends have collected over their many years of experience.

One of my favorite things about the work that CCD does as a matter of course should be the most obvious step taken in this type of work: they do real live usability testing, so they can see any problems that people have when trying to use ballots and other materials.

For the Anywhere Ballot, Dana, Drew, and Kathryn Summers gathered in Baltimore and did iterative usability testing, meaning they revised the ballots before the next group of test voters came in — resolving problems in real time.

The report that I edited for Dana back in 2013 presented the Anywhere Ballot findings and their methods.

As I pored over the report, I could not believe I hadn’t known about civic design or usability testing before — that these were jobs you could do.

If you’re the kind of nerd I am, it’s work that can suddenly and unexpectedly give you goosebumps.

Civic design isn’t sexy, but it’s work that truly matters. It can have a real impact on our nation.

I had known about Oxide for several years before this all happened, and about its exceptional brand work. But I was only peripherally aware of their interest in civic matters. Come to find out, Oxide is one of the nation’s foremost experts on election and ballot design. Right here in Omaha, Nebraska!

Three years later, I’ve been a very small part of some cool projects. Mostly I’m just writing this blog post to brag about the very cool people I know and how they’re making the world a better place.

Dana recently finished up a two-year stint at the White House with the U.S. Digital Service. She was asked to speak at the debut TED@NYC event about how democracy is a design problem:

She was also recently interviewed for NPR Weekend Edition about who designs ballots.

Whitney and Dana recently posted about civic design in the New York Times, reiterating that plain language is a civil right.

And Oxide’s been busy encouraging people to vote, spreading the word about civic design, and saving democracy

Oh, and we helped astronauts vote from outer space!

Ok so maybe civic design is a little bit sexy after all.