Fill in the Blank - Civic Engagement Material︎ 2022
As a 22-year-old, I’m able to vote. This often feels small, but it’s a significant opportunity to create change that isn’t given to people under 18. Minors in the United States have virtually no access to directly affecting policy. Without a clear route for impact, teenagers often feel powerless within our political system. This sense of helplessness has created a generation of politically exhausted youth who, despite daily exposure to anxiety-inducing media coverage of our country, just avoid sharing their perspective. But these perspectives are powerful and necessary to create a just future.
For this reason, I chose the topic of youth civic engagement for my Senior degree project. The design solution, Fill in the Blank, is the product of months of design research and meaningful interactions with young people.
Before the designing could begin, I had establish a strong base for this project through research. Through these sources, I was able to find themes that guided my primary research and designed solution. My primary research consisted of youth interviews, policy reflection activities, and tiktok descriptive research. I identified 10 key findings that became the foundation for my design intervention.
Fill in the Blank is a subscription-based letter-writing program. Sent on a monthly basis, it gives users background information on a rotating topic and then prompts them to write a letter to their state legislators. With letters that function as their own envelopes, this minimalistic approach to direct mailers aims to make the most of its space.
While functioning as a large envelope, the system would go through the postal service like a flat package. Based on information gathered through the subscription process, it would arrive at the home of the young recipient with their name printed on the envelope. This envelope unfolds to reveal stickers, another smaller envelope, and introductory information on the month’s given topic. The system gives the users the tools to form an educated opinion about a political topic, and then write a letter to one of their state policymakers. Through writing the letter, the user is able to speak directly to those who can cause change. It’s an opportunity for legislators to hear from the portion of their constituents that elections can’t speak for.
Beyond that direct act of civic engagement, instructions on the envelope ask users to photograph their letter and upload it to Fill in the Blank’s online archive. A database of young people’s direct calls to policymakers: photographed and transcribed. This fills the void of information that exists around youth opinions and gives them space to be viewed on a wider scale.
Conceptually, Fill In the Blank is a call to action. It asks young people to be civically engaged, to use their voices. It begs for information to supplement the knowledge gap that exists around young perspectives and provides a space for those perspectives to be held and heard. Fill in the Blank is centered around the idea of doing a lot with a little. Young people can’t vote, but this system aims to amplify the impact of the opportunities for civic engagement they do have. While serving as a system for individual learning and personal reflection, the act of writing a letter to a policymaker can also be a powerful moment for declaring an informed opinion about political issues.
If you’re interested in reading my full research report, you can download it below.
︎︎︎Full Research Report
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