Improving how citizens email Congress with smart illustrations


Last summer, Sunlight created a feature that allowed you to email your lawmakers just as easily as you would a friend or colleague. One year later, we are improving the user experience by writing new text and illustrating custom icons to enhance the meaning of it.

The impetus to these changes started with user support tickets — a lot of them. Users were confused and quickly frustrated with certain parts of the emailing process, including an introductory email Sunlight had to send to users in order for them to utilize the tool. For more background on this, click here.

The introductory email users receive from Sunlight. (Click to enlarge)

So, the design and development team got out pencils and paper to sketch out what the process should look like to clarify these confusions. We wanted to guide our users on how they should utilize this feature to email their legislator in the easiest way.

The introduction email

We have created three custom illustrations to help explain three things: what our service is, why you should use it and what’s next in ensuring your message gets delivered. Anticipating these three questions from users based on frustrated support tickets and providing thoughtful answers helped us to begin to solve the problems our users were having.


To ensure the illustrations felt connected and cohesive, we made sure line quality, line weight, colors and overall styles mimicked each other. We did this by actually drawing it out by hand; you can check out the process of evolution below.

“I already sent my message, why are you contacting me?”

We wanted to acknowledge that receiving this introduction email could be potentially confusing or frustrating, as the user has already sent their message — why would Sunlight be contacting them? Deciding to place a mail slot in the Capitol creates an immediate visual to the user that this is, in fact, the most direct and easy way to contact your legislator.

“Why should I use this service to send my message?”

To demonstrate our value, we used an American flag to describe the bigger picture: Contacting Congress is your right as an American, and we are here to provide that service to you.

“What’s the next step to sending my message?”

We need the user to submit the requisite information for their message to actually send to their legislator. They have just one more step before their email is sent — represented by a form and a prominent check mark — and we’re hoping they’ll click on the link and take it.

For example, an American citizen would like to send an email to their legislator, and happily learns that Sunlight has created email addresses for every member of Congress (since Congress has no official email addresses). There is one catch! Members of Congress demand a certain amount of information from people who contact them directly via the web. In order for Sunlight to successfully deliver this email, we too must have that information. To obtain it, Sunlight sends a follow up introduction email to the user after their first time contacting their law makers. This email is where we sought to use illustrations to support the explainer text and improve the overall experience of using the tool. (Return to top.)