1. Proposition

2. Design principles

  1. Make it understandable, but still enjoyable.

  2. Be neutral and transparent on issues, but don't be afraid to be confident and distinctive in tone.

  3. Play well within the political platform. We are just one of many services that help inform political discourse.

  4. Expose interesting, unexpected data, but be careful not to overwhelm the user.

  5. Technology should enhance the experience, but should not be a prerequisite. Democracy is for every citizen – our service should be, too.

  6. Be reliable yet deferential on a day-to-day basis, but be provocative, insightful and encourage exploration when invited.

3. Identity

The proposed logo consists of three parts; the logo, the word mark, and the colour bar. The logo, an abstract representation of a traditional ballot paper, hints at the democratic nature of the product. The logotype, set in Omnes, is light and modern, reflecting its approachable, unstuffy nature.

As colours can be too easily aligned with political parties, the colour bar is a nod towards the bi-partisan, unbiased editorial stance of Politmus. It also gives a hint towards the litmus paper term we've included in the product name.

4. Customer journey

We imagined the way a user might go from early use to regular, weekly engagement by writing stories.

First Encounter

Julie sees her a local friend's tweet about a question on Politmus about blasphemy.

Clicking through to Politmus, she sees that the question of whether to abolish blasphemy law has been raised in parliament this week. She votes 'Yes', and sees that parliament voted 'No'. She then enters her postcode to see how her MP voted. She's enthused to see that her MP voted 'Yes', and amused that Politmus recommends that she move to the other side of the country to find a like-minded constituency.

She answers a few more questions to learn more about how her MP's voting matches her own opinions, and learns some interesting things about where she stands compared to her constituency. She signs up to keep tracking her personal opinion on the latest political questions.

Ongoing Use

Julie gets a quiet notification from Politmus at the beginning of the week about this week's question in parliament, and gives her opinion on it. Later in the week she's notified about results to the question she answered, and sees it didn't go the way she wanted. She's slightly comforted to see that her MP voted the same way she did.

Julie has configured Politmus to notify her only about certain topics, but the issue of school funding is in the media and she tells Politmus to notify her about education questions.

Next week she encounters a question that she's undecided on, so she delves into the related news and debate that she needs to form an opinion via Politmus.

Julie finds that Politmus has demystified parliament enough to make it her starting point for staying current with politics.

Long Term

Julie has written to her MP a few times based on things she learned on Politmus, particularly on topics close to her heart when she thought the MP would vote against her wishes. She even felt confident enough to visit the MP clinic and talk about school funding with her MP.

Its the month before the general election. Julie knows from Politmus that she is somewhat in agreement with her MP on certain topics, but that she and her constituency mostly differ with her MP. She discusses this in person with people she knows locally, and votes for a new candidate.

5. Product Lifecycle

We imagined potential ways in which Politmus might grow to widespread adoption.

Early Days

Politmus is for those who are politically opinionated but disengaged from day to day politics. The aim is to re-engage them, and show them how well they are served by democracy with interesting data.

It does this by tracking your personal opinion on the current issues – a Nike+ for politics. The growth strategy would be to produce high engagement from a single segment or constituency.

Medium Term

People not normally engaged by politics start to use Politmus as they see early adopters using it. As more local and national data is collected, the focus shifts to the question: "How is our constituency served by our MP?".

Because Politmus becomes an entry point to politics, the media start to realise it could be an important source of public opinion.

Long Term

Politmus has reached saturation; those working in politics (like civil servants and MP's staff) find they cannot work without it. Citizens know their MPs are paying close attention, and the different channels make it very accessible to a wide range of citizens.

MPs start to rebel more often as they realise that the constituency has a direct measure of its own opinion and quality of representation.

7. Prototypes

HTML

A clickable prototype was created in order to demonstrate the flow of answering questions. It’s a mobile-first design so this initial prototype looks best on smaller screens.

Phone line

One of our design principles was that our solution should be inclusive of the population. As an alternative to using a smart phone or computer, an automated phone system was created for answering questions: 020 3051 6587.

8. API

We defined an API that tried to adhere to RESTful principles, exposing ways to get, create, update or delete entities within the system, as well as extract comparison data around you (as a user), MPs, constituencies, parties etc. Thinking about and documenting this stuff early on helped us guide the work with both designing potential services and our own prototype.

The challenges we found were mostly centered around striking a balance between theoretical purity on one hand and usefulness on the other: "should we include this piece of data in the response for convenience, or is it a separate request?"

Another challenge was how to handle comparisons between entities in the system in a flexible way. In the end, we resorted to using a microsyntax in query parameters to handle complex operations.

The goal of defining a hypothetical and somewhat speculative API seemed fuzzy at first, but we had an idea that just having it documented could help our thinking later. And sure enough: when the interactive prototypes started to take shape, the various people working on that could have a common reference point in talking about how to get data into and out of the system. It also helped us envision what other services could build on top of our service.

9. Assumptions & challenges

  1. The parliamentary process is very obtuse, you have to be in the know to understand it. There's a important editorial role in keeping the users engaged, by translating the questions in parliament into something accessible and concise. We've assumed that we'd have an expert political journalist who can do this for us on launch.

  2. We haven't done any testing/research about who (if anyone!) would find this useful. There simply hasn't been enough time, so there's a risk that we've designed something just for ourselves.

  3. A lot of the things we're thinking around data visualisation are highly simplified and untested. The voting mechanisms in parliament sometimes generate highly ambiguous results that are hard to summarise (e.g. when MPs vote yes and no to a question, at the same time!).

  4. That this product could ever affect politics in the long run. Arguably, there are other key challenges to tackle that would make MPs more accountable to citizens. It's somewhat sad to see how infrequently the MPs rebel against their parties; this suggests some very fundamental issues at the heart of politics outside of the scope of this product.

  5. That any single product could engage a wider segment of the population in politics. Arguably, if you learned how your MP failed to represent you on a weekly basis, you might end up getting turned off politics altogether.