So I got my sample ballot and Vote-By-Mail ballot in the past two days, and I couldn’t help but notice the continuing lack of good visual and information design in these election documents.
Let’s start with the front cover. There just seems to be just too much information. The key word is seems. There’s actually not that much information, but it’s just arranged on the page so that it looks like a lot. In terms of the white arrows, the left one points to the improper outlining of type (more on that on the next image). The top right points to what I believe to one of the many instances when they unnecessarily stretched the type. And the bottom arrow points to just too many individually centered type that together ironically lacks unity.
This is a close up of the front cover. Notice the gray outline around the yellow “Non-partisan” all against a lighter gray background. While at first glance, the solution of “NO OUTLINED TYPE!” immediately came to me, but when I realize that if the outline wasn’t there, the yellow would start to get lost in the light gray. The easiest, cleanest solution I have for it (at least as a start) is to have a darker gray background. No, it won’t match the gray of “non-partisanship” that the cover takes on, but it’s definitely the same hue (or lack thereof) so it’s not a big deal if it’s not the same shade of gray.
On Outlined Type: Ever since Davis, I had learned that outlined type is bad. But since leaving Davis, I’ve become more tolerant of outlining type, while still conservative compared to the billions of commercial type I’ve seen. Outline type is not evil; it’s just abused.
Voting’s so cool, it’s like a magazine!
Anyone want another card-stock half-page that inherently reminded me of the same kinds in magazines? I know, they want to save paper, blah blah. But they should not stick them in the middle of spreads like that. Give it its own space and people will not ignore it like I had (except for taking this photo).
Elements outside the lines when they’re not meant to. This makes me think of the first one or two Illustrator class assignments that students would produce (for some people, it’s in all projects). This would not happen under my watch. “If I were elected San Mateo County’s next sample ballot designer, I promise to make sure that all lines would not stick out of their containers like hangnail!”
The second image involves grammar. Being a Grammar N-word (the other N-word). This is more upsetting than the hangnail. I am beginning to be convinced that this document is made entirely in Illustrator, because of the use of Myriad as its body typeface, the hangnail, and now, the missing closing quotation mark typical of the “designing on the spot” spirit of the designer who does not look back for accuracy. The right arrow is where the quoting began, and the left arrow is where the quoting is supposed to stop. “If I were elected San Mateo County’s next sample ballot designer, I will make sure that the disappearance of closing quotation marks will seize, and I will pass legislation to make sure that there will be No Quote Marks Left Behind.
Voting is Like, So Kewl!
This is the deal sealer (“seal-dealer?”) about Illustrator. Preset strokes to make it look like you used a wax pencil to draw that arrow, and then your pencil suddenly turned into a pen, and your handwriting has identical k’s and e’s and pretty much every letter in the alphabet.
Oh, and look, the new electronic voting system is just like an iPod! How cool! Voting is so cool, all the kids are doing it!
The Important Stuff
This probably has the least problem, because it’s not about color, and it’s not about being “cool.” It’s about the content that has stood the test of time, constantly perfecting the best layout. Even so, I think there’s still the problem of overall typographic arrangement. Maybe they’re doing this to be neutral and as boring as possible because it’s the actual ballot design, but the lack of contrast in type confuses me and causes more frustration than it should.
Set in Helvetica Roman or something, there are only four font sizes to distinguish all words, and all but the smallest font are set in caps. My problem with this is that the separation of one question with another is very subtle, by a single line, the same width of line used to separate names of districts, which I have no idea what they mean (See top of image). I’m sure it’s important to display that information, but how should that relate to the actual reading of the proposition descriptions below that?
Those three lines for the district names completely distracted me from the Instructions for the ballot, which is more important to me as a voter to know how to do this right and not where in the state I’m doing it, because I know where I am. A simple solution I could think of is to just make those lines between propositions thicker and not the same width of the type stroke. It shows that this is the end of this proposition, and this is the start.
The other problem is the names of the proposition of category being hidden into the rest of the entry, and if I get lost in thinking about the proposition’s pros and cons, I might accidentally subconsciously fill in No for the previous question just because I see the current question closer to the Yes/No boxes. While they obviously give generous whitespace to show the Yes/No boxes, I think they should be next to or below the proposition number and not right before the next one, so they know for sure they’re voting for the right choice.
Too Much Red
I’m gonna go for a guess that they used red as an emphasis of things you should do before sealing the envelope and mailing it in. But this is a ridiculous amount of red type and lines and boxes. Emphases are meant to emphasize a limited amount of the most important thing(s), not everything you think is sorta, kinda important.
What Am I Looking at?
And finally, the back cover. What am I looking at? Did you know there’s a perforation across the middle where you tear off and mail it in to get a Vote-by-Mail ballot? Did you know that before I told you? And did you know what is the most important information you should know as a voter on this back cover? I haven’t found it yet, because I don’t want to look at it for more than three seconds at a time, kind of like the sun.
I realize that I sound really cynical and sarcastic with this pamphlet to a point of appearing arrogant and cocky, but I’m just upset that an official government publication failed to uphold the highest standards in print design, be it aesthetically, like the outlined type and the red-emphases-saturated envelope, or technically, like the missing closing quotation mark (which led me to think that you didn’t proofread this government document or any government document.
I can’t promise that as a beginner designer I can produce the best sample ballot pamphlet, because I know some of these problems involve a lot of bureaucracy and politics as well as dealing with many people who think they know what the best design should be, based on their own interests. But I can say that I would do my best to make sure that little (yet representative) problems like this don’t appear.
It’s interesting to see that the Polling Place Photo Project is continuing and growing via New York Times. I’d like to see a similar project in the documents involved in the voting process.