03. Political Participation.design research

How will society participate in the political process in the 21st century? How will we use new technologies to achieve more effective ways of communicating, large scale non-hierarchical decision making, or grassroots organizing? These are just a few of the questions that inspired our design research project.


To narrow our scope we chose to focus on college students and finding out how they feel about the current opportunities available for participation. 

Our primary task was to focus on Experiential Design Research during this group project. Completed in 2015. 


Group Members:

    Eric Friday

    Sixuan Zhu

    Cynthia Wagner

    Alyssa Miller

    Kristen Huyett


Begin Version.JPG

Initially we began by identifying a myriad of ways people can participate in politics. Ultimately we narrowed our scope to 3 topics: information gathering, contacting representatives and voting. 

Objectives and Goals

Our objective was to explore how college students currently participate in the political process. After collecting this data and feedback, we will analyze the findings to gain insight from their experiences.

So What?

To discover how college students engage in and experience the political process.

Precedent Research & Preconceptions

To begin we conducted background research of websites that try to help people stay better connected and maneuver through the political process easily.


In these initial stages of topic exploration, preconceptions  emerged around the three main topics.

Gathering News and Information

Many people will feel overwhelmed and bored with the current ways to gather news and information. 

Contacting Representatives

We believed that many people would want more modern ways to interact and communicate with their representatives.


We felt most people would not know where to vote or who to vote for. 


Design Research Methods: Phase 1

During the first phase of this project we conducted semi-informal interviews to get initial insights and ideas. We used this information as well as our precedent research to create a Typeform survey to ask 16 different questions to help us look for patterns and important aspects to consider. From the data gathered we created Personas

Typeform Survey

An electronic survey was sent out to college students on The Ohio State Univ. campus to find out their experience in the political process and their level of involvement. 

01. Are you a college student?

02. What is your gender?

03. What is your age?

04. Are you registered to vote?

05. Where do you get your news from?

06. Did you vote in the last election?

07. Why or Why not?

08. How informed do you feel about state politics?

09. How informed do you feel about federal politics?

10. How informed do you feel about local politics?

11. If you wanted to contact your state representatives what would you do?

12. What is your biggest concern with the current political process?

13. How accessible do you feel your representatives are to you?

14. How much do you feel your vote influences real world outcomes?

15. When the technology for online voting is available, will you be more likely to vote?

16. What would encourage you to participate in the political process more?

Survey Results

We gathered responses from almost 100 college students over a 10 day period. 

Gathering Information, News:

- 51% of participants stated that being informed was their biggest concern currently
- 84% of participants stated they use online/social media to gather news

Contacting Representatives 
- Less than 1% of participants stated contacting their representatives was their biggest concern

- 53% of participants preferred email as a way to contact their representatives

- 18% did not know how to contact reps and stated they would search online to find out


- 13% of participants stated issues surrounding voting was their biggest concern currently

- 65% of participants did not vote in the previous November election

- At 24%, voting registration issues were the most common barrier to voting

- Lacking information and time were the 2nd and 3rd most common barriers to voting

- 82% were in favor of online voting

voters vs non-voters.png
barriers for voting.png
contact reps.png
how much do students know.png


This method was created based on the insights we were gathering to help us further understand our participants and their experiences. Please click thumbnails to see more information. 

Political Personas-Scenarios_Page_1.jpg
Political Personas-Scenarios_Page_2.jpg
Political Personas-Scenarios_Page_3.jpg
Political Personas-Scenarios_Page_4.jpg

Design Research Methods: Phase 2


Building on the insights from the previous methods we designed a MakeTools session to gain a deeper understanding of how college students gather information about politics and contact their representatives. We also asked them to demonstrate how they would ideally like these aspects of participation to function in the future.


The following process photos show the design research MakeTool activities we asked our participants to complete in order to hear about their experiences. To facilitate this process we provided paper, markers, glue, stickers and other crafting supplies to help participants more easily express their ideas. 

Participant MakeTools Results Summary


1. 4 of 5 participants chose to use the image of the word "confusing" and the 5th participant wrote "not easily accessible" to describe information gathering.

2. News / information was overwhelming to participants. Participants wanted fact-based, unbiased information organized into quick and easy to read lists.

3. Participants wanted information to be easily accessible; many preferred through social media as long as source was legitimate and unbiased.


4. Participant wanted to contact representatives through electronic means

5. Participant wanted proof their request was considered or acted upon; some kind of feedback loop.

6. Participant expressed that they did not need personal response but daily or weekly "progress report" from representatives. 

Design Research Methods: Phase 3

Visual Survey

Building on the insights from the previous methods we designed a visual survey to further understand how college students contact their representatives or if they currently don't, how they would like to contact their representatives. 


We asked participants to look through a deck of image cards provided to help them illustrate their experiences and desires. Once completed they explained their choices to us.   


Image cards included past, present and possible future technologies people can use to communicate as well as emojis and other symbols.

Visual Survey 1.jpg

This composition of image cards was created by Mark*. As he chose cards and laid them out, he verbally expressed his intentions. He wanted electronic means of communicating with his representatives that led to responses from his politicians. He feels that even if he voices his thoughts there is no way to know if they have been read or heard or acted upon. Mike wants a continual loop of input and response between himself, his community and elected officials. *Names changed for privacy. Click image to zoom.

Visual Survey 2.jpg

This composition of image cards was created by Ashley*. Her explanation for her image cards focused on getting information or education about issues her elected officials were working on. She wants to receive information about important issues directly from her representatives through social media sites she already uses. *Names changed for privacy. Click image to zoom.


Throughout the research process and the various methods we used, the following main themes and insights emerged about how students experience or want to experience the political process.

Feeling uninformed about political issues was a sentiment expressed by a majority of participants. Words or phrases like confusing, biased, or not easily accessible were used to describe these experiences. 

Modern modes of communication was a focus, such as email or social media platforms. During the MakeTools and Visual survey sessions, participants wanted to see online technologies make it easier to contact their representative but also receive some kind of response or update from their elected official about the issue in question.

Issues surrounding voter registration was the hardest barrier for many participants to overcome in order to vote . Feeling too uninformed to vote came in as the second most stated reason for not voting.

A lack of organized, accessible and reliable information, media literacy, disconnect between constituents and representatives and the confusing experience of voter registration are issues that need to be addressed.

An easy and convenient voter registration process, access to organized, unbiased relevant information, and online methods of communicating with representatives were the top three issues brought up by participants and three possible products or services that could be developed to positively impact the experience of participating in politics. 

There is an opportunity to use technology to bridge the gaps with all three of these modes of participating in politics. And our precedent research showed that there are many organizations and projects working on these issues in different ways and it would be important to find out why many of them have not succeeded on a mainstream level yet. Additionally, it would be imperative to do further research into the various reasons why these issues present problems to understand the broader context and possible systemic components that would be important to understand before trying to holistically solve the problems.