Two great articles:
I liked these because they articulate in concrete terms the world-changing consequences of all those seemingly insignificant design decisions we face on a daily basis. Without a sophisticated but usable get-out-the-vote infrastructure, Obama loses. Without readable infographics, no one knows where our recovery money is going and trust (and elections) are lost. And I especially like the description of Romney’s aptly named “Orca” voter tracking system; at the risk of sounding glib, I can just picture the GOP’s excited faces when whoever built that thing read them the features list, only to realize post-election that the thing is unusable by real people. I wonder how Obama’s past experience as an actual community organizer influenced the design decisions behind their system? And I wonder how it compared to the clearly checklist driven decision of the GOP, which reminds me of every CTO that has ever bought a crappy enterprise solution and forced their users to adopt it without ever trying it themselves.
I’ve always felt that the need for good design and usability extend far beyond the walls of gadgets and web services. Part of what attracted me to design in the first place was the idea that seemingly mundane design decisions have their consequences multiplied exponentially when the are unleashed on the world. For example, a butterfly ballot, or a touch screen voting machine, or a system of healthcare that is confusing as hell and results in billions of overhead just to correct design errors that shouldn’t have been there to begin with.
I don’t think anyone will dispute that policies, regulations, social programs etc are all things that need to be designed with human behavior in mind. The part that usually freaks people out is the question of who will design the solution. We’ve developed a system where policy design by consensus is baked into the process. People know that and abuse it. It’s not that I would want it any other way, but anyone who has had to sit through a consensus based design process knows the special hell that it is, and the crappy outcomes they tend to produce.
How do we change the design of policy to be less about consensus, and more about what’s best for mankind? We all know that in design, sometimes a decision will leave users behind. How does that translate to policy design? When do you decide that it’s ok to inconvenience or leave someone behind?