Star spangled website: The UX guide to the US election

Star spangled website: The UX guide to the US election

The world is reeling from one of the strangest elections in US history. Even though we’ve had time to absorb the result, you can’t escape the endless discussion, the headlines, or the many excellent memes that are currently doing the rounds.

The candidates were intensely scrutinised. Every press release, every speech, every tweet and every ‘gram were all fodder for commentary. None of this is surprising. We live in a society where politicians understand the importance of their digital presence. In fact, President Obama used social media in such a savvy way, that part of his campaign success was attributed to it. And in the four years since his win, there has been a growing focus on these mediums, to the point where the 2016 election was the first time that both candidates spent less on television advertising and more on their digital strategy.

From Trump's 14.1 million twitter followers to Clinton’s impressive multi-platform campaign, it’s clear that the 2016 battle for presidency was waged online. Given how savvy both candidates were at using platforms, we wanted to explore what their digital presence, in particular what their websites, could teach us about User Experience (UX) and what effect it had on voters.  We spoke with UX specialist Beth Storck, about how the candidates used their websites to try and win the US presidency.

What is User Experience? (no, it’s not the same as Customer Experience)

Organisations tend to use the terms interchangeably, but in reality they both serve two very distinct functions. Customer Experience (CX) refers to every single dealing a customer has with a brand. If we apply this definition to the election, that means that anytime you read Trump’s tweets, or used Clinton’s app Trump Yourself or watched their ads on Youtube, then you have an opportunity to interact with their brand.

However UX is a different kettle of fish. UX refers to the interaction a customer has with a specific product of a brand, be it an app, product or a website and how they move from the top to the bottom of the funnel on that specific device.

For example, the way a voter might go onto a website to learn more about an issue, be persuaded and want to vote for them. This journey is summed up in this diagram by UX researcher at AnswerLab, Charlotte Hult:

Voter's Engagement Journey

According to Storck, UX is motivated by design but it also incorporates a lot of psychology. ‘It’s about how people make decisions, what ultimately sways them' she says. ‘You need to think about the different options people have and the different scenarios people are in. That’s where personas can come into play. You need to know who your audience is and what are all the various elements that could affect their decision.’

UX is guided by a set of principles known as the 10 usability Heuristics, created by Jakob Nielsen:

10 Usability Heuristics

When creating any system, product or platform, it’s imperative that these principles are adhered to, so that your customer has a positive experience and you achieve your goal. With a political website, there are normally two aims:

  • to raise funds
  • to promote policy

So, using the principles of heuristics, who managed to achieve these goals?

Donald Trump's website

Hillary Clinton's website

Raising funds

Storck first noticed the CTAs on Trump’s website, noting, ‘they appear several times on the homepage and are really well designed. They are worded in several different ways and they’ve used an interesting price range from $10–$2,700. Whereas Hillary’s donations were noticeably smaller. The suggestions ranged from $3–$250.’

This observation is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, because Clinton is breaking traditional CTA rules. Storck admits that: ‘normally when you are designing a CTA you tend to use a strong contrasting colour, yet Hillary has used a red on blue (traditionally a big design no-no because red tends to blur onto a blue background, especially on screen) and has stuck with red as her donation button, whereas Trump has chosen to go with a bright green button.’ She says the colour language is interesting as, ‘red can be a colour that signifies stopping. The green is actually a little more friendly and feels like growth to me, while the red is really clashing and blaring out at you, it really catches your eye though.’

Even though Hillary’s CTAs have broken with design conventions, according to Hult, it was found that Clinton received significantly more contributions than any other candidate.

Clinton received significantly more contributions than any other candidate

Storck suggests that the reason for this is the placement of Clinton’s CTAs. ‘Even though she’s breaking some rules, the CTAs are really clever, really well placed and mixed up with icons and different wording. They never feel invasive and it never feels like she is asking too much of you.’

Promoting Policy

Trump however breaks the rules when it comes to the wording. According to the usability heuristics, it’s important to use familiar language for your audience. Potential voters are going to get onto a candidate’s website to look for more information. They want to know where a candidate stands on any given issue, and how it may affect them.

On Clinton’s website, the word ‘issue’ is very prominent. It has its own tab up the top, and again down the bottom. When you click through, you are led to a page of boxes clearly outlining potential issues:

Clinton's policy page

When you click on an issue, you get some broader context, followed by her proposed policies and information on how she has contributed in the past. The flow of information is important, because it quickly allows a would-be voter to get their head around a subject matter and know how she is going to tackle it, all the while reiterating what a qualified candidate she is.

However, Trump has chosen to use another term. Instead of using ‘issues’, has gone with the vaguer term ‘positions.’ When you click through, you are met with a very corporate design:

Trump's policy page

Compared to Clinton, Trump has only chosen a handful of issues. When you click through, you are met with the phrase: ‘Donald Trump’s Vision’ followed by ‘Key Issues’ and how he differs to Hillary Clinton on that issue. While not the traditional language of politics, what this does is reiterate Trump’s main theme, that he is not one of ‘them’ which he furthers by positioning himself adversarially to career-politician Clinton. There is a lot of information to digest and, unlike Clinton’s website, it’s hard to wade through it.

One of the reasons for this, Hult suggests, is that Trump’s site is not optimised for heavy consumer engagement. Clinton’s by contrast, is very sparse with a good use of multimedia content and social media buttons in clear view. The difference in style could be because Clinton was targeting a younger demographic who understand and value the importance of a good website experience more than Trump’s voters.

Cult of personality

Given that this election relied so heavily on the cult of personality, the design choices reflect how the candidates wanted to be seen.

According to Storck, Trump doesn’t rely on his website to promote ‘Brand Trump’ alone. Instead, all the language refers to ‘Trump-Pence’ which may have been an attempt to lure in the more traditional conservatives of the Republican Party. This idea is supported by the very conventional font choices, the subdued blues, reds and whites and by the decision to put the video footage at the bottom of the page.

Clinton, by contrast uses her site as a platform to show who she is and what she’s about. Video footage has always appeared in a prominent place on her site and those videos tend to show her surrounded by people of all ages, colours and persuasions. This message is supported by her ‘Vote Together’ tag, which sits visibly at the bottom corner.

Storck admits that while both sites are well-constructed, in terms of user experience, Clinton’s is better: ‘It’s cleaner, clearer, it has great features and tools, like the calculator you can use to see how any of her policies will affect your finances.’

Did their websites achieve their aims?

Obviously a great website didn’t equate to presidential success for Clinton, even though her website was demonstrably better at raising funds and presenting her policies to her intended audience.

However as one commentator noted, judging the effectiveness of a website in this election was difficult, because this wasn’t a normal election. Trump is independently wealthy, so didn’t need as much support as the other candidates. He also didn’t run on a policy platform, instead he used emotionally charged language to appeal to voters, so his website didn’t necessarily need to be as optimised as Clinton’s. Having said that, both candidates have demonstrated some important lessons as to how businesses use UX. Key takeaways include:

Know your voters

Establish who your key customers are, what they need from you and how they would navigate that experience. Start off with persona mapping and always have your personas in mind when creating a feature.

Be mobile

One of the features that really impressed Storck was how well both sites were optimised for mobile. Given how much of our lives we spend on our mobile devices, all businesses must ensure that their sites are mobile-friendly.

Don’t take a rule for granted

Just because a principal states one thing (like having a contrasting CTA) it doesn’t mean you can’t buck the trend — just be sure to measure your results.


Be responsive to your results. Be curious, go online and have a look at what other organisations are doing, and don’t just stick to your industry. Be lateral and constantly question how that cool feature you came across may work for your company.

Invest in good UX

Both candidates knew the power of the digital sphere and extended that care to their websites.

Both also demonstrated a good understanding of what platforms potential voters would be on and played to their strengths. UX investment is not just a one-off cost, if you want to stay relevant you need to make sure that your products, systems and platforms are growing with you and your market.

We hope that in the tumult of the US election, you’ve managed to come away with some great UX tips that will take your website to the next level. If you want more great marketing tips you should check out the Enterprise Mobility 2017 @ CeBIT program today.

CeBIT Australia Digital Marketing Report