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 soooo janky. 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.

Thanks to my patient friends who gave feedback on my drafts, helping shape them into something publicly shareable: Barron, Carrie, Christy, Erica, Flora, Jackie, Ryan, Steph, and Susie