The 2016 presidential election has been described as a lot of things, most of which are not very positive. In our design-centric world at SketchDeck, we wanted to explore something else about the campaign, something that could actually be positive. Not commercials, or street signs, or online retargeting, or debate bashing.
We wanted to know about each candidate's official apps and if their use of design and marketing was going to have any influence on the upcoming election. In a comprehensive review, we picked 5 categories to research and compare head to head: App Design, Media Content, Campaign Hacks, App Reviews, and Ease of Use. 5 categories would allow for a comprehensive review, and also prevent a tie from occurring.
Before we got anything productive done, we were immediately distracted by the iTunes reviews, which are as biased and divisive as the campaign going on outside the app world. Nonetheless, we persevered and downloaded both of the iOS apps and got to work.
Here’s what we found:
There is a remarkable difference between the interfaces of the apps and in some strange coincidence, reflect the character and campaign style of each candidate.
The signup process for Hillary 2016 is simple and clear, but requires a password to register. This is a big obstacle for someone who just wants to ‘look around’. Existing hilaryclinton.com members have a bit more convenience with a special login process, but I chose ‘sign up with email.’
The App is built like a game, with beautiful images, a reward system, and store for redeeming earned points. Engaging with the app requires a few minutes of getting use to, but the imagery, graphics, and interaction is quite pleasurable. The design is very modern and fun to use after after a few minutes of swiping, scrolling and investigation.
The landing page and login screens have a nice modern appeal, but once in the app, the interface is much different. Dominated by the color grey and very basic fonts, the app is a generation behind app design today. Tight spacing and a lack of imagery made for the impression this was not ‘designed’ at all, merely assembled in an app builder.
However, where the Trump app lacked design it did make up for in ease of use (see Ease of Use section below)
If you’re like some app users that just want to click around and scroll through content, there’s a chance you’ll close out of the app before you get to the content. You must complete a task before anything real happens, like a hidden checkpoint that happens way too soon.
Once you do this though, there’s plenty of media to consume and ‘get involved’ actions for individuals to contribute to the campaign. The design and consumption of the media is really friendly, plus it’s the kind of quality content that you can find on her Facebook page.
America First’s Newsfeed is easy to find, but it consists of the Twitter feeds of @RealDonaldTrump, @America First, @Mike Pence and anything tagged with #trumptrain, #MAGA. Given the time of day your read it, it mostly contains Trump’s rapid-fire style of Tweets. Once you’ve scrolled for a few minutes, there’s not much else to do.
Additional links in Info & Events provide access to his other social channels, but they aren’t integrated into the app.
If your goal for media consumption is quick and digestible, Trump would be the winner in this category. But a mobile app offers so much more than his modified Tweetdeck and Trump’s media section could be improved to include additional social channels and content.
We’re thinking of ‘hacks’ as methods that each candidate has included to increase their reach and campaigning via the app. As a startup, we’re often looking for these growth hacks ourselves and so this was an important column for us.
Hillary scores a quick win here by asking to connect your contacts early in the signup process, but it’s not helpful because users are encourage to type in a friend’s phone number. Excuse me, type in their phone number? Hold on Hillary, let me get my White Pages. This might work for some people, but seemed really out of place for an app experience.
Other areas where the ‘reach’ was considered included places to connect your contacts list into the app and still even more areas where you could type in someone’s number. Hillary could use some more help in the growth hack category.
Hillary’s app is built around a gaming system, but the end goal is a little childish. You can redeem the points you’ve earned for upgrades (including a modern lamp, or a vintage couch) to improve your virtual campaign headquarters and also some mediocre real-world rewards. Again, feels silly for a presidential candidate app. Am I voting for Martha Stewart, or the next US president?
In the apps simplicity lies its real strength - campaigning. There are several places Trump encourages users to extend the reach for his campaign.
Trump’s app allows users to post and share posts right from the app, which increases the social reach of the campaign by empowering users with social media.
Two more clever hacks include codes for users to send to their networks, and track their involvement. The Invite Code and Fundraising Link, both part of his ‘Action Points’ system are also easily found in the side nav. For any user that wants their efforts to be measured, these codes are really effective and allow for a broad reach.
Trump’s point system called Action Points encourage users to do a number of different things to gain badges. Users start as an Apprentice, but there are 6 badge levels all the way up to Big League.
A listing of the Leaderboard makes it easy to track users progress, and also fuels that competitive spirit. Check. Another campaign hack.
App technology has come a long way, but creating a great user experience (UX) is still really hard to accomplish. There are two dominant approaches in app design: 1) keep it simple and effective or 2) make it complex and therefore complicated. No surprise here, our candidates chose one of each and neither figured out the sweet spot in the middle.
After a clean signup process, the experience hits an early wall. You’re trapped in a game and there’s no easy way to explore much further. Eventually I completed a basic task and opened up the rest of the app. Although their are in-app prompt to complete things, it’s not clear how are why I’m supposed to do anything.
The points system that’s a core feature is not very complicated, but it’s not explained at all for new users and it seems that’s the only point of the app. A lot of thought must have gone into the game, but what does that have to do for her campaign in real life? Very out of place for a social app.
Finally, about an hour after signing up, the app closed and I was forced to sign up again. Not login, sign up.
Also presenting a clean onboarding experience, with the somewhat tedious extra step to include an activation code sent via email (Trump’s ‘virtual’ wall, in action) I was in and ready to explore. Right away there are lots of buttons to click, a clear leaderboard, and tons of links in the side nav to explore. Getting the lay of the land wasn’t complicated and although it took me a while to figure it out, I never really felt lost.
Another benefit to Trump’s campaign hacks were supported by ease of use. America First makes posting to social media and invites friends quite easy.
I thought the Trump App was the clear ease of use winner once Hillary 2016 kicked me out, but then America First showed me the door and I was forced to sign up again. Both apps need love in their user management, but for something with a suspected lifespan of a few months, it’s likely these issues aren’t a priority.
Acting as a bit of a tie-breaker, we decided to let the users talk. Filtering through the testimonials, though, it was clear that feedback was not about app reviews. And although there’s no easy way to determine which is about feedback, there was a clear winner for App reviews.
Ratings for all versions is an impressive 5 out of 5 stars with a whopping 5,000 ratings.
Coming it at a solid 4.5/5, TrumpTrain has a popular app on their hands. But with only 731 ratings, Trump has some catching up to do in the App review department.
There are some hilarious reviews in both camps, so we encourage you to check them out. Two of our favorites:
Review in the America First app:
“I have tiny hands and find this app very hard to use.”
Review in the Hillary 2016 app:
“I downloaded this thinking it was an email deleting app.”
If Jimmy Fallon or Stephen Colbert are in need election material (not likely), there’s a gold mine in the reviews.
They fought long hard battle and the ballots are finally tallied (pending an app recount in Florida). In the end, Hillary walks away the App winner with a popular vote of 3 to 2. The Electoral College is inconclusive, however.
Does an App score of 3-2 mean that Hillary is going to win the election? It's probably not a given just based on this information.
Perhaps more important than the final score are the things we learned during the review process. If there was a digital persona of each candidate, it was accurately reflected in their apps. Especially if you consider that the apps are heavily geared towards fund-raising.
- Hillary 2016 is colorful, confusing, and Martha Stewart-like. She also has an (ironically) weak email marketing game post sign up.
- America First is simple, aggressive, and forces users to read Trump tweets. Not surprisingly, I get a rambling donation-request email from Donald, Eric, Trump Team, or Mike Pence at least 8 times per day.
As of November 8th, we learned that our app prediction was not correct! Trump's wins in Campaign Hacks and Ease of Use were a fitting metaphor to the huge upset in what was becoming a predictable race. Pretty colors and Martha Stewart are not enough to move this nation.
Additional election help
There are other ways to FOLLOW the election via app, especially in the final days campaign race. Take a look at WIRED’s 6 apps to follow the election which showcases more helpful and unbiased resources.
Nate Silver's fivethirtyelection election coverage is also a great way to follow along with his data-driven analysis.