Seeking out Stories

Earlier this year, I got involved with an organization called Get Her Elected, which seeks to pair women running for office across the United States with talented, remote volunteers. I spent the year following the 2016 elections full of anxiety and despair, fearing for my future safety and the safety of my family, friends, and countless others  — fellow queer folks living in intolerant environments, immigrants, Muslims, people of color across the country… This is not a regime friendly towards the millions of people in the US who aren’t white, cisgender, straight, documented, or Christian.

Volunteering for Get Her Elected was the first step on my journey towards gaining back my political agency. I paired up with a candidate looking for help updating and expanding her website, where I got my first look at the needs of an active campaign.

Picture this: you’re a smart and talented woman in a blue state, and you’re puzzled that despite a democratic majority, your state has been unable to pass important, progressive legislation. You discover this is because your State Representative and his cronies have been voting along Republican lines. You feel compelled to run against him. With your background in law and state politics, you have a real chance of challenging this sleaze ball. (Oh yes, did I remember the part where he’s also been accused of sexual harassment?)

Campaigns today rely heavily on technology; having a strong social media presence and a good website is necessary. While effective use of technology is by no means the key to winning an election, it’s an important component. When I joined this campaign, the team was tiny, and the existing, barebones website was assembled by the campaign manager. They were feeling totally overwhelmed by the technical side of the campaign. Imagine suddenly having to think about:

  1. Fundraising and raising donations through a website;
  2. Finding volunteers to cover a wide range of jobs;
  3. Connecting to voters through a variety of social media accounts;
  4. Connecting to voters through email, and even gathering those emails in the first place;
  5. Creating a way to promote the social proof needed to gain the trust of your voters (like endorsements);
  6. Creating a way to keep voters informed about your issues, priorities, and other information about your campaign;
  7. Finally, finding a way to link all of these things together into a centralized digital headquarters.

That’s a lot to wrap your head around! Who wouldn’t be overwhelmed and reach out for help?

These are the kinds of stories that we, as designers at Automattic, need to seek out and understand. For many people running for office, using the internet as a base of operations is a new concept, and they need help. They have too much to do, and too little time, to devote a tremendous amount of effort and mental energy on their websites. It’s our job to seek our these stories, and translate them into resources and tools that can help their campaigns succeed.

This is why one of our core design principles is:

Search for and tell stories about people, not just data.

As Brené Brown writes, “Stories are data with a soul.” Data can only tell us half the story, the what. In order to learn the why, we need to talk to people. Only then can we serve our customers, and their customers’ (or voters’!) needs.

The primary race is still underway, but the candidate I’m volunteering with has managed to grow a dedicated team of talented and passionate volunteers. I’m still helping her with her website. Technological setbacks have occurred (heyyyy third party form integrations), but for now, we’ve worked around them. In the future, in my role as an Automattic designer, I can propose solutions to ensure that these setbacks don’t stop anyone else from running for office.

Are you a US citizen? Remember to register to vote in the upcoming midterm elections!


By Mel Choyce

Boston-based WordPress core contributor and craft beer fan. I design stuff at @automattic.