Organizing for Action, the policy support group born out of Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign machine, has just reported that it took in $4.8 million in the first quarter of 2013. Many have raised questions about the constitutionality of the group (WaPo, New York Times).
As with any group charting out a new niche in politics, OFA has dealt with a fair share of growing pains. Below, I’ll explore OFA’s design strategy – specifically focusing on its website – and suggest ways it could be improved.
1. A 3rd Obama Campaign
The most evident thing when consider OFA’s design choices is the use of the same branding that was used in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Typography, color scheme and overall design are clearly drawn from the same style guide. The iconic Barack Obama logo is also prominently featured on the site. Also note that the campaign actually surrendered http://www.barackobama.com to OFA.
This presents an interesting convergence. Never before have we seen a campaign organization continue to operate post-second term election, especially at this level. It presents questions of constitutionality when the president is so closely connected with a fundraising organization.
Side note – Perhaps most disturbing about this mindset is that large donors are allowed special access to meetings and conferences where the president will be present.
The problem with this approach is that tying any organization so closely to a single person could be devastating for that organization in the future. If the president’s approval ratings take a turn downward (as they tend to do in the second term), donations to OFA could dry up. That would present several challenges for the administration of OFA.
There will also come a time when OFA needs to slowly move away from the president’s brand so that it can survive beyond his presidency.
2. Campaign mode
Barackobama.com is still very much a campaign website. I say this because it puts emphasis on news and the content being produced at that moment. Navigation tools are scarce, making it difficult to find content that a user may have encountered a few weeks before. Note that the traditional bar across the top is not occupied by links to an about page or the issues. Instead, the bar is a simple logo, a button to donate money and a log in to invite people to join the mailing list.
In fact, the only navigation buttons can be found below the scroll (a place of much less importance than navigation should be given) and these buttons only take the user to two other feeds of information.
If this group wants to be more than a fundraising organization (I’m not sure that they do), they need to consider how to engage users more effectively. Users will not be encouraged to stay on the site if they can’t navigate it easily.
In many ways, this website feels like a collection of landing pages to be linked to from outside the site. While this is advantageous because it acknowledges that social media will play a big part in rallying support around these issues, the campaign is sacrificing a valuable constituent by making intrasite navigation so difficult.
One of the most engaging parts of the site is the Your Stories grid, which allows users to post comments about specific issues. Unfortunately, finding this feature a second time required me to Google it. To optimize tools like this and encourage discussion, OFA should at least have a link to things like this on the home page.
The stepped donation page looks almost exactly the same as it looked during the campaign.
The site is clearly trying to capitalize on the success of the campaign that focused around the rock star figure that is Obama. Alexander would note the ubiquity of photos of Obama on the site. Instead of images of regular Americans, the site prioritizes the Obama brand. In some way, I think this is an admittance that more than the policy positions OFA is fighting for, the Obama brand is the thing that will mobilize forces for the cause.