The 2016 Presidential election has been a polarizing affair, with supporters showing a lot of passion and dedication toward their preferred candidates. While many voters have already made up their minds, undecided voters have the potential to swing this election to either candidate.
With this in mind, one of our Dom & Tom User Experience (UX) designers analyzed both the Democratic and Republican candidates’ websites through the lens of an undecided voter in the final weeks of the election.
UX as a field of study encompasses aspects of behavioral psychology and anthropology, meaning that emotional and hard-wired behavioral components are as important as design aesthetics in shaping how we interact with the world around us. In terms of analyzing campaign website, this means we looked at things like messaging as much as general usability and visual design.
We conducted our review on a desktop computer, used private browsing sessions to minimize influence of past Internet browsing behavior, and used a coin toss to determine which site to review first.
Without further ado, we’ll hand it over to Michael:
When I first visited the Clinton campaign website, I was greeted with a splash screen to donate. As an undecided voter, this is subpar UX because the experience doesn’t meet my personal needs – earning my vote, not earning my dollars. At the heart of UX and user-centered design is the fact that everybody is unique, or can at least be segmented into a number of distinct ‘types’ of users, with a different experience being optimal for each type of user. The campaign could create ‘user personas,’ a common UX practice, to define user types and better reach each type with the content most relevant to them. Really it is up to the campaign (or any website or product owner) to strategically determine which persona(s) they want to address at any given time.
I click to continue to the main website and find a clean, though somewhat sterile, website with numerous content blocks. The most prominent content block asks the user to launch a sort of side-by-side slideshow that compares the histories of both candidates. This slideshow pulls up positive images and stories about Hillary Clinton and negative stories about Donald Trump from the last 30 years. This has a real impact, although one could argue it’s easy to cherry-pick highs and lows of each candidate’s career to paint the desired narrative. In any case, these are effective tidbits, and there are clear buttons to share the anecdotes on social media – good UX because the buttons both trigger the idea to share and make it incredibly easy to do so.
Back on the homepage there is a donation call-to-action that surprisingly references becoming a donor “before tonight’s debate,” even though this is the morning after the debate; typos and outdated information contribute to poor UX because they chip away at a user’s perception of trustworthiness and professionalism (how did you react to the misspelled “information” in this sentence?). Immediately below that content block is another donation call-to-action, this one with buttons to chip in a specified amount. This block is the sparsest donation call-to-action I’ve probably ever seen; while I appreciate how simple it is, it almost seems too stripped down to be legitimate – where is the asterisk or disclaimer about donation regulations? Where is the “secure” icon? Familiarity is important on the web because people have expectations for commonly encountered elements, especially financial transactions; breaking convention increases the user’s cognitive load – in other words, making them stop and think about something they shouldn’t have to stop and think about.
Revisiting the homepage we find that most of the primary content areas are devoted to knocking Donald Trump, not advancing Clinton’s policies or experience. One section, titled “Literally Trump,” is a newsfeed-like display of Trump quotes that visitors can read and click through to the original source content (e.g. a New York Times article or a first-person Tweet), or share on Facebook and Twitter, or react with emojis – no login required. Not requiring a login here is good UX because it allows the user to actively engage with the content without any obstacles. Donation links are interspersed throughout the feed. Surprisingly, and somewhat frustratingly, there is no link back to Clinton’s campaign homepage in the upper-left hand corner where it was expected, nor was there a link to the homepage in the footer. Linking back to the homepage in the top-left corner is another web convention that users expect, and it is frustrating when the desired interaction is not available.
At this point as an undecided voter, I’m feeling no stronger about Hillary Clinton as candidate for President than I was upon arriving at her website. The general tenor of the site is less about Hillary’s vision for America and more about positioning Trump as a bogeyman needing to be stopped.
While I might have ended my visit here as an undecided voter, I reviewed the rest of the campaign website for the sake of this piece.
Finding more information about Hillary the candidate – and her stance on the issues – isn’t exactly difficult to find, but it’s certainly not front-and-center. Found only in the minimalistic top and bottom navigation sections, these links are not prominent. Volunteer opportunities are also found in the top navigation under a link titled “Act.” When I finally visit these pages, I find substantial information about Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, and lots of information about Clinton’s policy positions and goals for a presidency. The volunteer page smartly highlights how someone can get involved based on how much time they have available to volunteer, from a few minutes to a few days. Finally, the shop is full of contemporary and trendy merchandise, from apparel to accessories to knick-knacks.
A final observation is the “En Español” link in the top navigation, which I initially must have seen but did not jump out at me as a non-Spanish speaker. Clicking this link has the expected behavior of reloading the site in Spanish, and the unexpected behavior of loading content specifically tailored to Latin-Americans, such as immigration policy. The anti-Trump content is still present, but much less the focus than the English site. Finally, a prominent call-to-action that is a donation block in the English site is a voter registration block on the Spanish site.
Website recommendations to appeal more to undecided voters:
- Learn more about who I am, and cater the content to me. Instead of asking me for money as soon as I land on the website, ask what issues I care about, then launch an experience tailored to those preferences.
- Turn down the Trump bashing, and turn up the pro-Hillary message. If I am an undecided voter, that means I’m either considering voting for Donald Trump, or for a third-party candidate, or not voting at all. Focusing on bashing Trump might prove offensive to me if I’m considering supporting him. Not putting Hillary’s own best image forward also does little to convince me to support her over other candidates.
- Turn down the fundraising appeals, and focus more on getting out the vote. Sure it takes dollars to win elections, but on election day it takes votes. Moving volunteering opportunities front-and-center should be considered at some point to mobilize voters.
The Trump campaign website features a splash screen casting an initial image of Donald Trump as a boxer squaring off against Hillary Clinton for the presidency. It’s Red vs. Blue – literally “Trump vs. Clinton” – in this mashup of a debate highlight video, Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, and donation links. It feels like a Monday Night Football graphic. A scrolling ticker of small donors along the top of the screen makes this campaign feel like a movement supported by regular people like me. The look and feel of the page is not very polished – I actually went back and used Google to double-check I was on the official campaign website. Upon confirming this was the official website, I scrolled down to click the link to enter the full site.
The Trump campaign’s homepage layout is fairly standard on today’s Internet – top navigation, big hero image, call-to-action (to donate), and a paragraph of supporting text. This first paragraph puts forward a very positive message, repeatedly imploring us “Together” to be part of a brighter future. It’s much more uplifting than the media’s portrayal of the campaign. I also can’t shake the feeling that the site is a bit rough around the edges, which is evidenced by traits like uneven spacing between elements.
The remainder of the homepage has two primary functions split across a handful of content blocks: 1) Engage with the campaign by signing up for updates, making calls, or donating, or 2) Read the latest news about the campaign, including remarks from Republican Congressmen and officials lauding Trump’s latest debate performance. With these two focus areas, I’m pretty much driven toward reading the news releases, or scrolling back to the top navigation to dive into the issues or other content areas.
The policies section of the campaign website is very straightforward and easy to navigate. Each policy area includes text on Trump’s vision, key issues, contrast with Hillary Clinton’s position, and supplementary infographics and videos in many instances.
Another top-level navigation section is titled, “States.” Surprisingly, hovering over this option or clicking through reveals that only 15 states are included. These states are clearly the “must-win” states for Trump to be elected, but as a native Illinoisan and current New Yorker, I feel alienated and ignored. I click on another state where I’ve lived and find state-specific content such as upcoming campaign events, issues important specifically for this state, and content about how President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s policies have hurt this state (while some state pages feature content about how Trump has been beneficial to the state).
I next click on the “Get Involved” link in the top navigation primarily out of curiosity. It doesn’t load! Sad – and textbook bad UX when things don’t load or act as expected because users question the professionalism of a site or product when things are broken. I find that if I visit the homepage again and then click on the Get Involved link, it works. A modal window opens with a form that is by no means complex but is not very aesthetically pleasing, either. I also find it frustrating that the Trump/Pence logo link in the top-left corner of every page links back to the website splash screen instead of the campaign homepage.
Lastly, I want to check out merchandise, so I click on the “Shop” link and am taken to a subdomain to shop for gear and other products. There is a nice image of Trump supporters with various signs and apparel. The merchandise is a mix of more traditional designs and contemporary pieces. The online shop doesn’t link back to the Trump campaign website, so I use the back button in my browser to navigate back to it.
Overall I find the Trump campaign website to be fairly innocuous and non-polarizing, outside of a few pieces of campaign merchandise that are negative toward Trump’s opponent and news releases that are equally negative but not front-and-center. The design is just a little bit ragged, which could be interpreted as slightly amateurish, or as befitting of an outsider candidate who cares less about aesthetics than overall message.
Website recommendations to appeal more to undecided voters:
- Make use of some of the available space “above the fold” on the homepage or in the primary call-to-action area to get supporters engaged in “get out the vote“efforts.
- Continue to talk up the candidate’s diverse base of support and use unifying language of “Together” and a positive message. These messages counter much of today’s media casting Trump in a negative light.
- While outside the scope of the campaign website itself, the Trump campaign might be well-served by reflecting more of the ethos of the website in its other media and in-person appearances.
In the subjective opinion of this reviewer, both websites reflect the image that the campaigns wish to portray, along with a small dose of unshakeable outside perception – as much as brands (or campaigns) want total control over their image and messaging, outside forces can shape opinions, and strong UX will take into consideration those factors and respond accordingly through design. In the case of Secretary Clinton’s campaign, the website is polished and technically proficient with a number of thoughtful touches and nice aesthetics. However, it also is somewhat polarizing and might not appeal to those who already find themselves outside of the Clinton camp. The Trump website conveys a patriotic America-first message, strong voices of support of the candidate, and news content that reiterates the campaign’s talking points. On the other hand, it feels just a bit thrown together and lacking in substance.
So which campaign will prevail in November. That’s up to YOU! https://vote.gov