Design Your Topics with Users in Mind

June 15, 2016 – OpenGov


The human brain is hardwired to process visual information incredibly well. In fact, a recent study by MIT found that we can identify images in 13 milliseconds, which is literally faster than the blink of an eye.

That’s important information to consider when you’re designing your online engagements. Rather than opt for a text-heavy exercise, look for opportunities to cater to people’s visual sense. This can be as simple as creating tables that are easy to scan, or interactive maps that are visually more engaging.

For example, the City of Lawrence, Kansas, asked the public to give input on the budget last year and again this year. Both times, the exercises were basically identical in content—except last year, residents had to work their way through a long series of questions that all asked the same thing: Do you think this department should get more, less or the same funding? In addition, every question had a lengthy description.

As you might imagine, working your way through 20 of these questions would make for a tedious exercise.

Now contrast that with the approach Lawrence took this year. All those questions were condensed into a matrix. That way, people could quickly scan the information to provide input faster, and in a visually more interesting manner:

In addition, all those department descriptions were put into a glossary of terms that residents could refer to as needed. Again, this made for much more efficient experience.

The change is simple. Yet it had a tremendous impact on participation. Last year’s effort received 45 responses, and this year’s effort garnered 332 responses—a staggering eight times higher.

City of Lawrence Communications Manager Megan Gilliland says that by working with Peak Democracy staff to revise this year’s exercise, she was able to “condense the form so that viewers did not get overwhelmed.”

That’s an important takeaway, because if people feel overwhelmed, they’ll probably not participate.

As you can see, paying attention to details pays off when it comes to designing online engagements that are efficient and engaging. If you’d like help designing your next topic, contact your Customer Success Manager.

Category: Civic Engagement