General election 2015: Why UK politics has a UX problem

This article is one of a series from global marketing and technology agency DigitasLBi assessing key aspects of the main political parties’ digital strategies in the run up to the General Election.

UK politics has a UX problem, says DigitasLBi global head of user experience Marcus Mustafa. And the parties’ websites are only the start of it

Many clients understand user experience (UX) simply to mean ease of web and mobile browsing. Are my consumers satisfied by my digital interface? Do my online properties do what they should? But however the various parties’ desktop and mobile sites perform, whether or not their content engages and their navigation delivers, UK politics appears to have a UX problem.

From its 1950 high of 83.9 per cent, turnout at the 2010 general election was 65.1 per cent and in spite of the hugely heartening 84.59 per cent figure in Scotland for the independence referendum, the UK at large appears far less engaged, particularly among younger potential voters. Too many users don’t see themselves as such, and are contemptuous of any political experience you might offer them.

Could digital help? Would the disenfranchised younger generation be more likely to vote, for instance, if they could vote online. Indeed, research suggests they would.

And how would a UK party fare that advocated the Estonian online voting model, or that of Argentina’s Partido de la Red, whose app lets residents of Buenos Aires vote on any bill proposed in the city legislature?

Such questions do, of course, raise security and practicability issues, but in any case, the UX of democracy is changing on its own. Social activity of all kinds has become the glue that binds together the political UX journey. Much of the official activity only adds to the noise, but the effect of social’s relentless scrutiny, I suspect, will be to force politicians to be more human.

Against this backdrop, the UX of the parties’ actual digital properties is just one issue, but it remains an important one. We experienced them all, and this is how they made us feel as users:

Conservatives

Behind the Tories’ overwhelmingly blue website façade there is a surprising lack of content, much of it locked behind a user-unfriendly social log-in function. When you do find it, it tends to be combative in tone and negatively focused on the party’s opponents, particularly the SNP and Ed Miliband. A little more glamorous in design than the Labour site, but less responsive, the site has some nice features, such as the ‘find your local team’ function. The sharing functionality is good too, although we couldn’t work out the points system.

Labour

Labour’s desktop site is a good experience from a technical perspective, but it doesn’t excite, and there’s no warmth or humanity, which can’t have been their aim. The ‘will you be voting?’ splash page is annoying, and it is disturbing that they ask for name and email details at this stage, suggesting, not for the last time, that the party is desperate for your data. But they do some things well here: the manifesto is central to the page; users can select key issues to create their own manifesto, although again name and postcode information is required, ruining the experience somewhat.

Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems offer a clear, simple and well laid-out website that puts policy and achievements in the foreground. The site leads on key campaign issues, which is a strong strategy, and lots of content focuses on evidence of achievement, which contrasts strongly with the Conservatives. They have also tried to use social effectively by featuring Twitter feed integration. This positive feedback hides a massive UX error however, as their ‘issues’ section is incredibly hard to find (hidden behind an unclear label above the main navigation). A truly terrible UX decision.

Greens

The Greens serve up a clean and simple digital experience. Care has been taken to make content as shareable and consumable as possible. At times this can make the content feel flimsy, however. The ‘mini manifesto’ feature is a good idea but could be done better; ‘find your closest campaign’ is also a good engagement tool.

Plaid Cymru

This website has fundamental structural problems. As far as navigation is concerned, there is just too much of it - 55 links within the main navigation, with 16 links in one section (Get Involved) alone. The content is available in Welsh and English as users would expect, but there are too many blocks of copy and too much stock photography.

SNP

A very poor digital experience, definitely not befitting a party that prides itself on being forward-looking and progressive. Their content discussing ‘Progress’ lacks facts and figures, which is disappointing for a party in power. This contrasts with the content in the ‘Vision’ section, suggesting the party puts more stock in theory than in action. The homepage feels more like the Ryanair website, and there is no mobile site, though they have an app. The best feature of the site is the shop, which suggests the party has some strange priorities.

UKIP

The most divisive of the parties has produced a simple, content-light but outdated website, featuring prominent use of (fairly poor-quality) video, with too many broken links. Too often, users are met with a wall of copy - the policy pages, for example, read like a Word document. There is also a lack of visibility on immigration policies, and an appalling mobile experience.

There’s good and bad here in pure UX terms. Parties need to ensure their digital properties are engaging people and true to their political values, but the political establishment as a whole could afford to reflect on its usability too.

DigitasLBi has also carried out a social data study which reveals surprising facts about the political parties and their supporters. For more information visit www.wearewhatsnext.com

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