A California election offered a natural experiment in user interface design—an open Senate seat that would be on the ballot statewide. Ballot designs must adhere to legal, technical, and financial constraints, but there is still room for variation. California’s 58 counties came up with 58 different designs. Nancy Frischberg was part of a group that analyzed the results after the election. They evaluated whether any of the discretionary graphic treatments and county-specific wording achieved better results or fewer errors. Did wording, layout or other graphic design elements lead to more accurate voting (fewer disqualified ballots)?
Back in the day, tech writers were the vanguard of software usability; the way to make software easier to use was to write a better user manual. But then along came usability, and writers discovered that they could better serve their readers by helping engineers to make software easier to use. Writers also made their instructions more accessible by providing user assistance in the form of more lucid UI text, tooltips, and context-sensitive help.