This post has been re-posted from Armadillo’s President’s personal web site as it touches upon a subject that we’re currently very interested in. We hope you enjoy this post and if you have any questions feel free to contact us at any time.

Better yet, are you designing for voters or your candidate?

I’ve said this numerous times, but the world of political campaign web site design is a niche market that seems to be years behind current trends. And while I’ve raged on the issues in other “personal posts”: personal posts, one of the biggest underlying issues with political web design is that there tends to be an “incredible lack of focus”: on who the audience of these sites really are. And even though it’s an off year in most political circles, there are still a handful of newly minted municipal campaign web sites that are missing the mark.

In general, there are two ways of approaching a campaign site design, either build and design for your candidate or build and design for the voters. In an altruistic world, every campaign web site would be built with only the voters in mind, but if we’re being honest most campaign sites are built to appease the candidate (or campaign manager) and voters second. It’s a difficult situation for any designer to straddle, but it’s a key failing of many campaigns. On the one hand every candidate knows that they need voters to win and they need a web site to get their message out, but on the other hand for those running for political office, even if it is from a position of public service, it is an ego boost. For many candidates this may be the first time they have ever had an online presence or their very own web site, so it becomes difficult for the candidate to simply let someone else control their online image. And in a profession where appeasing the client is always the first goal, it becomes incredibly easy to succumb to a candidate’s personal tastes or opinions, rather than crafting a web site geared to voters.

So how do you know if your campaign site is tailored toward a candidate rather than voters? Here are a couple of obvious tell-tale signs.

* Are there more professional head shots of your candidate on the site than photos of your candidate getting down and dirty in the community?
* Is the candidates bio longer than all of the other policy content on the site… combined?
* Are the “media” or photo galleries more predominant than key action items; such as signing up for a newsletter, donating or getting involved with the campaign?
* Is the site incredibly “glossy” and unrealistic? (for example: is the candidate’s head levitating over a stock photo of skyline? Are there more than three forms of gradients on your site rather than a simple and memorable colour scheme?)

But how do gradients, too many polished photos and links to photo galleries rather than action items indicate that a site isn’t geared towards voters? Well, let me explain.

* Polished head shots are a good thing to have, because each candidate needs to look the part of politician. But there needs to be a balance between polish and looking like your candidate is actually a key member part of the community. People tend to vote for someone they can relate to or respect, not a real-estate agent.
* Bios are a key component of any campaign web site, but a site that is all bio and no policy doesn’t provide a voter with an understanding of where the candidate stands on the issues.
* Here’s a little secret, although your candidate will love having galleries of photos on their site, the average voter won’t click on them. Truth betold, it’s better to save that real-estate for key action items which will allow voters who want to be apart of a campaign an easy way to get involved.
* A site that looks glossy, or even worse outdated, is going to be distracting for voters. Go with simplicity, a simple three colour palette won’t distract from the site’s key messages like a rainbow of off-shades or gradients will. Keep it simple and easy for the voter to visually digest.

See voters, similar to candidates and political consultants, live incredibly busy lives. But for the most part your average voter isn’t living and breathing the every day activities of a campaign race — they don’t your candidate as intimately as you do. Instead voters, especially during municipal and local campaigns, will tend to rely solely on first impressions and gut instincts to judge potential candidates when they are making a voting decision. Voters want simplicity, clean messaging, and something to relate to and a campaign’s web site is the easiest way to connect with voters on all three levels.

So, if you answered yes to more than one of these issues that I outlined at the very beginning of the article, it’s time to reevaluate your site. My suggestion is to grab an impartial voter (your in-laws are a great resource for this), sit’em down for 10 minutes, ask them to walk through your site and get them to tell you their gut impressions of the candidate based solely on the web site.