I designed political organizing software for the Democrats in the 2020 election cycle, during which the COVID-19 pandemic turned campaigning upside-down. There’s not a lot written about designing in campaign tech, so I started writing this to share my experience with other designers who may be interested in this kind of work. But I ended up writing for myself, to remember what I did and how I changed, during a year my brain is already fighting to forget. This is how I’m trying to reflect, process, and heal.
The 2019 version of me — the more shallow, perfectionist, judgmental version of me — would have been too embarrassed to show even a pixel of this work. Everything is just soooojanky. If you aren’t familiar with political campaign tech, the first thing you should know is that it’s an incredibly scrappy industry; most of the time, the budget is $0, the deadline is ASAP, and usability is an afterthought. Coming from the comforts of the tech and design industries, I was in for a rude awakening.
Now, on the other side of the election, I’m proud of what I’ve done. The work itself hasn’t changed; I have. I had to let go of polish, craft, and cleverness because I needed to optimize for throughput, clarity, and shipping. I had to stop caring so much about the shape of my work, and instead focus more on the consequences of it. Along the way, I found the most meaningful work of my career.
In a year in which office and home collapsed into one, I can't talk about the work without talking about the personal. A lot happened this year, so this is a long and meandering story. It’s not a case study; it doesn’t list the top ten things you should know; it doesn’t optimize for the views and likes and shares. It’s quite a while before you get to the pictures — and instead of showing the pretty mockups as is common design industry practice, I show the actual shipped product in all its messy glory. I show me in all my messy glory. Makeup off, camera on. Can everyone hear me? Okay, let’s get started.