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Prototyping for Election Accessibility, Part 1

Andrew Baranak is an industrial designer and research scientist at Georgia Tech Research Institute's Human Systems Integration Division. He's currently developing his iPad Absentee Voting idea which was a winner on our Voting Challenge.

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Andrew Baranak was one of our winners on last year's Voting Challenge which asked How might we design an accessible election experience for everyone? Andrew is an industrial designer and research scientist at Georgia Tech Research Institute's Human Systems Integration Division. From there he works on a variety of human factors projects, with a primary focus on increased accessibility for people with physical impairments.

Andrew's iPad Absentee Voting idea began with his observation of the challenges that many folks have in placing their vote on election day. "Some people can't make it to poll booths during opening hours, others face various degrees of physical challenges which may be long term or recent. Although an absentee voting paper system already exists, it still does't serve all user groups to access their basic democratic right", he mentions. His initial winning concept on OpenIDEO focused on an iPad used for absentee voting either as a handheld device or mounted at a voting kiosk. However since the being awarded grant funding by our challenge sponsors, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), for further development of his project – he's been focusing on a case which could hold the iPad and deliver a number of additional accessibility features.

"Early focus groups with visually impaired informants turned up some real insights around how they actually experienced the voting procedure and also used devices like iPads. One woman told us she faced challenges at the polling station with poll workers not knowing quite what to do with her, though she was able to be helped by her husband. But her main desire was to vote on her own. Others told of how they had been able to learn how to use an iPad because of the Apple voiceover technology which allowed them to accomplish self-directed learning which was an adoption method they valued," reports Andrew. These human-centered insights lead to an increased sensitivity to the kind of drivers, barriers and opportunities as he proceeded with his project and exemplifies the designing with, not for approach which we're fans of here at OpenIDEO.

From here Andrew went on to make comprehensive artists renderings of four options of cases so he could make initial evaluations and comparisons across various accessibility criteria – such as simplicity of use, ease of manufacture, durability and versatility. "The process of detailed digital rendering forces you to think about specifics – like size, thickness, button size, textures and how they might effect interaction," he reflects. A report including the these visualisations has now gone out to election accessibility experts for feedback to help Andrew make a decision about which version to make a physical prototype of to test further with real users.


Feasibility testing of using the tactile controls with a sample iPad Ballot


While rendering has been a valuable part of Andrew's process so far, he adds, "you can visualise all you want – but until you get it into someone's hands you don't really know how things are going to go." He shows us a prototype from another project where different surfaces were placed on each side of a 3D model so users could report on which side felt the best. "You need people to hold, touch, feel and use your prototypes so that you can test your assumptions and iterate further," he adds. He's looking forward to embracing this essential phase of the project once initial feedback is in.

Keen to get a glimpse of some more details? Check out a couple of concept visualisations from the many Andrew has done for this project. He and his team at Georgia Tech continue to work on their iPad Absentee Voting pursuit and we hope to have future updates on their progress. 





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