Size matters: Improving ballot design two points at a time

Could something as simple as the font size on a paper ballot make all the difference in elections? AIGA thinks so.

An AIGA Design for Democracy team, led by Dana Chisnell of UsabilityWorks, Drew Davies of Oxide Design Co. and usability expert Whitney Quesenbery, has been working with local election officials to identify and address problems with election design, focusing especially on ballot design this year.

Case in point: New York State voters were recently faced with ballots printed in 7-point type—a size that is difficult to read, even for those of us who don’t wear glasses. But this issue will be rectified come November, thanks to a vote by the city’s Board of Elections to increase the font size of candidate names on the general election ballot to 9-point type, as reported by the New York Times. It isn’t quite the 12-point size recommended in the Voter Friendly Ballot Act—a bill sponsored by New York State Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh and based upon recommendations from Design for Democracy, the Usability Professionals Association and the Brennan Center for Justice—but it’s a significant improvement.

Of course, for every election design victory there are dozens of ongoing volunteer efforts, some of which will take months, years or even decades to come to fruition. As Design for Democracy director Drew Davies points out, “It’s a daunting task working within a complex system of national, state and county election structures and navigating legal hurdles—but that’s also what makes it so rewarding when we do accomplish something like this.”

It’s also one of the reasons Design for Democracy created a set of Top 10 Election Design Guidelines, which will serve as a reference guide for election officials throughout the United States for years to come. Those guidelines, along with other election design best practices, were recently published as a set of Election Design Field Guides—pocket guides for election officials and ballot designers that are available on

Even with all these efforts, most people probably won’t think about election design when they go to the polls this season. And that’s the whole point, says AIGA Executive Director Richard Grefé: “When ballot design works well, you won’t notice a thing because you’ll be focused on voting, not the process.”

Learn more about AIGA Design for Democracy efforts at