Navigating Information

Process blog for Project 1: Navigating Information (MDes/MPS Communication Design Studio, Fall 2016)

08.31 Project Introduction

Our communication design studio kicked off with a conversation about form and meaning, spurred on by an analysis of our professor’s collection of wind-up toys. It’s a little scary how intuitively and subconsciously we understand things about objects by how we read their form! Thinking about how that applies to communication design, especially in an age where we can access and filter so much information, opens up a whole world of possibilities and problems. I’m excited to dig deeper into how and why we perceive the way we do (and I’m interested in how culture shapes those interpretations), and how and why designers can/should use this knowledge.

The first project in this studio asks us to look at form and meaning of online news sources from that communication design perspective. We’ll be analyzing three separate sources, creating mental models for each, and designing instructions to help news consumers become as well-informed as they can be. Especially with the quick approach of the US Presidential Election in November, this is a timely and relevant project that begins to get at how we’ve become so politically divided.

My partner, Meric, and I will be looking at MSNBC, Yahoo! News, and BBC separately before coming together to start working on the rest of the project. Each day for the next week, we’ll look at these sources to start making sense of how form, language, layout, content, etc. affect the way we perceive and understand each source’s perspective.

08.31 News Source Analysis, Part 1

BBC, MSNBC, and Yahoo! home pages on August 31

I started my daily news source analyses by taking a look at the overall layouts of each source’s home page and noting what’s visually prioritized. Each of the three sources has one headlining story in a prominent position when first opening the site with a white textual headline on a photograph. Each also has various options for navigating stories by category, searching, and signing in. MSNBC frames the top story most strongly, while both BBC and Yahoo! include images for secondary stories. Yahoo! also includes “Yahoo! News Exclusives”.

Wireframes of BBC, MSNBC, and Yahoo! home pages

Scrolling past the top stories is where layout really began to differ. MSNBC continues to frame the spotlight story on its own, giving it the same visual treatment as the top story (the only hierarchy is in the vertical order of scrolling and the blue tag to the right that shows its position among the top stories). BBC is organized by color-coded category, presenting an image, headline, blurb, and tag for each article. Yahoo! populates stories downward in what seems to be a random order (although each story is tagged with a category), interspersed with ads.

Scrolling past the top stories on BBC, MSNBC, and Yahoo!

After getting a big picture of each source, I began to look at content. In terms of imagery, MSNBC has a cohesive visual style that ties its stories together. The photos and video stills have similar levels of high contrast and use duller color palettes. Together, they paint a very professional and commanding picture. This is key for MSNBC’s layout, since they rely on bold, large images and white headlines for each story in a vertically scrolling page. Yahoo!’s images don’t have a powerful presence beyond the first story and to me they blend into a mess of dull colors, low contrast, and a lack of cohesiveness. BBC’s images look a little more professional but, again, aren’t given as much space as MSNBC’s and therefore lose some of their power and any cohesiveness they may have.

Collection of some of MSNBC’s imagery for their Top Stories

At the time I began to gather screencaps, the three sites were featuring a story on the same event: Donald Trump and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto’s meeting in Mexico City. From my understanding of the meeting, Trump still believes in the wall but didn’t talk about who would pay for it with the Mexican president. The semantic differences between the sites’ headlines were interesting (although I don’t yet know how to talk about them).

Typographic and semantic treatments of the same event on source home pages (BBC, MSNBC, Yahoo!)

Given the Vox article we’re reading for class tomorrow on how the media approaches Donald Trump in his assumptions, inconsistencies, and flat-out lies, this is an interesting headline and story to discuss. More to come on that…

When you catch a politician changing their position or advancing an argument that seems to point in a different direction to what they said before, that is not a fact-check. That’s an inconsistency that is something worth pointing [out].

First overall impressions of home pages: MSNBC is simple, straightforward, and professional. It has less text on the front page (very image-heavy) and clearly curates what makes the front page (mostly US politics). Yahoo! is all over the place, includes sensationalistic/clickbait articles, has endless scroll, encourages interactivity with the heart/comment/share icons on each story. BBC is organized, gives a blurb/title/image combination for each story, but doesn’t seem as straightforward as MSNBC.

09.01 More Questions to Consider

A snippet of my notes from class

Today Stacie pushed us to think about more than the initial reviews we had completed on our first pass. Many of us had gone through and discussed things like color, layout, and typography. While those are indeed important parts of the form to consider, she asked us to dig deeper into why each source makes the decisions it does (getting into audience and company goals) and what effects these decisions have on the way each source’s readership might perceive the content. This is incredibly relevant to our role as designers and the values/ethics we’ll choose to hold to: what guides the decisions we’ll make, and how will those decisions affect the people we design for? What responsibilities do we have, and what will our roles be?

09.02 News Source Analysis, Part 2 (Pew Research Center report)

Keeping Stacie’s pointers in mind, I dug in to each news source’s history and readership. Using a Pew Research Center report from 2014 comparing demographics of various sources’ readership, I began to learn a little more about who makes up each source’s audience.

Generally, while each of the source’s “average consumers” leans to the left, readers of the BBC tend to be most liberal while Yahoo’s readers are more spread across the board, with consumers of MSNBC leaning slightly less liberal than readers of the BBC.

Readership of BBC, MSNBC, and Yahoo by political leaning (most liberal on left to most conservative on right). Source: Pew Research Center interactive site, http://www.journalism.org/interactives/media-polarization/outlet/msnbc/

Of all the sources, MSNBC was the most consumed amongst those surveyed, with the most “consistently liberal” and “mostly liberal” readers out of the three sources compared. Yahoo’s readership is more evenly distributed. BBC has a large “consistently liberal” readership, which quickly drops off from there.

Source: Pew Research Center interactive site, http://www.journalism.org/interactives/media-polarization/table/consume/

MSNBC has the most overall trust of the three sources, although it has the lowest trust in the “consistently conservative” group. BBC has a surprisingly high trust from the “consistently liberal” group at 69%, and it smoothly drops off from there. Yahoo, again, is fairly balanced across the board.

Source: Pew Research Center interactive site, http://www.journalism.org/interactives/media-polarization/table/trust/

However, MSNBC was also the most distrusted overall; it’s hugely distrusted by the conservative respondents (75%). Yahoo is somewhat more distrusted by conservatives. BBC is distrusted most by the conservatives, although its 17% distrust rating is not really significant compared to that of MSNBC.

Source: Pew Research Center interactive site, http://www.journalism.org/interactives/media-polarization/table/distrust/

In conclusion, MSNBC is the most consumed news source of the three I’m comparing, and it’s also the most polarizing (its readership leans heavily to the left). Yahoo’s readership is more distributed across the board. BBC’s readership also leans to the left, but has less readers in general.

09.02 News Source Analysis, Part 3

Taking what I learned from the Pew Research Center report, I’m trying to deconstruct the forms and relate them to each source’s audience and potential company goals. (I haven’t been able to find “mission statements” or the like from a quick scroll through their home pages.) Each source has its own vibe and voice to me, which I’ll try to read accordingly.

Disclaimer #1: It’s worth noting that my political tendencies are currently pretty liberal. Even though I grew up in a conservative community, I sometimes have trouble seeing past emotionally/viscerally negative reactions to the reasons why people believe and support what they do (thank you, filter bubble). It’s easy for me to judge without understanding, which I suppose is part of the point of this project: to become more well-informed, to understand different perspectives, and to help others see those as well.

Disclaimer #2: I realized I’ve been looking at BBC.com rather than the BBC news-specific site. Comments from now on will be for the news-specific site.

Full home pages of BBC, MSNBC; cropped Yahoo home page

On first glance, the BBC website is very structured, organized, and minimal. The white background gives a nice clean feel, and the deep red links provide just enough contrast for hierarchy. Its images for the most part are fairly desaturated, allowing the white space to give some breathing room.

MSNBC’s website has a dark grey background, bold headlines throughout, and bright blue callouts. At the small size of screencaps, its headlines are the only ones that are legible, and they’re legible throughout the top stories. The photographs and video stills are cinematic and use similar light, color, and contrast (perhaps a nod to MSNBC’s original TV presence). It seems the most likely to tell a story through the linear presentation.

Yahoo fits the most stories in the same amount of space and also utilizes infinite scroll. One could easily get lost in this endless scroll. There isn’t any real sense of organization or cohesiveness in the imagery or layout.

My first instinct as a reader choosing between these three sources would be to go to MSNBC and BBC and avoid Yahoo. My own political leanings align me with the Pew Research Center readership findings pretty accurately. At first glance, MSNBC’s presentation is straightforward and simple and a quick way to go through the latest stories on what’s happening here in the United States. However, for someone who objects to the presented stories, I can see how the story MSNBC is shaping can be easily mistrusted: one off-putting headline or image, and the story of the top ten articles will be ruined. The content and language of the headlines also caters to a more liberal, Democrat-aligned audience. (“Poll: 44 percent think Trump is racist”, “GOP senators prepare for Clinton victory”, “How can Trump appeal to African-Americans?”) The stories MSNBC has chosen to feature mostly have to do with US politics, especially the 2016 presidential candidates, and present a decidedly liberal argument. The forms the MSNBC designers have chosen of the bold white headlines on a dark background, large cinematic images, and pops of blue make it clear that this website is making a statement.

Top story today on MSNBC.com. Note the contrast in the photo, large and bold headline, pops of blue

The BBC news home page has more types of news and is organized according to featured categories (“America and the world”, “Pop Up Russia”, “Sport”). It also provides a navigation bar at the top with broad categories like US & Canada, UK, Business, and Tech (MSNBC only had “Latest” categories that were immediately applicable to US politics). The white background, negative space, thin separating lines, and quieter contrast between type hierarchies creates a sense of calm that isn’t as dramatic as MSNBC. It seems more likely to present a neutral point of view, perhaps because it doesn’t have as much of a commanding presence.

Section of BBC.com/news. White background and negative space, less priority on one story, subtler hierarchies

Sidenote on BBC: The large banner ad at the top of my page showed Bernie Sanders supporting Hillary Clinton when I first opened it today. I thought it was ironic at first, thinking that the BBC wouldn’t exclusively feature Clinton ads for fear of appearing too liberal, but after many refreshes I’ve only gotten mainly Clinton ads with a Vimeo and xfinity ad thrown in. (This probably also has to do with some Internet company watching my history…)

Yahoo’s homepage is overwhelming to me. Beyond the top section, where some featured stories are presented, it’s just an endless list of stories from all over the place: different sources, different categories, and ads interspersed with the same visual treatment that news stories get. The lack of organization in addition to the sneaky interjection of advertisements is probably what makes me the most uncomfortable about the Yahoo page. The list format also doesn’t seem to be enough for Yahoo; they’ve fit stories related to a more “main” story underneath, adding to visual chaos (they’re not chunked very well and run into each other). It seems like they’re just trying to pull as much news as possible. For the most part, the sources do seem pretty credible: Associated Press, Reuters, AFP. There’s just too much competing for my attention. Maybe it’s part of Yahoo’s goals to present as much as possible to the extent that things are crammed and chaotic. Perhaps this also adds to the general feeling of chaos and world doom that seems pretty ubiquitous these days (at least on my Facebook news feed).

Bottom of featured stories and beginning of infinite scroll on Yahoo.com/news. Ads are presented in the same format stories are. Stories are crammed in without regard for space and organization.

09.06 News Source Analysis, Part 4

In addition to the main differences in visual form and layout, I’ve noticed differences in interactivity among the three sources–at least as highlighted on the front page.

BBC, MSNBC, Yahoo main stories on front page

The BBC site doesn’t feature any ability to share or like on its main homepage. On each of the MSNBC article blocks, there is a small button with the comment count that takes you directly to the discussion section. Yahoo’s featured article has buttons to “like” an article, share it, and comment.

Once inside each article, each news source presents different ways to interact. The BBC has a simple green “Share” link at the top of the article as well as email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn links at the bottom. MSNBC has links to share on Facebook/Twitter/Google+, email, print, and comment; these links follow you down as you scroll through the article. Yahoo has a series of seven buttons, three of which aren’t immediately understandable. Four are for sharing on Tumblr/Facebook/Twitter/email, and the other three have to do with the personalized Yahoo news feed (save, more like this, fewer like this).

BBC, MSNBC, Yahoo article headlines

On a scroll to the bottom of the article, it doesn’t even look like BBC has comments capabilities at all on their news pages. As far as I can tell, MSNBC’s discussion section is only accessible through the comments buttons; scrolling further brings you to more stories. Yahoo’s comments section can be found at the bottom of each article.

MSNBC and Yahoo comments sections (I couldn’t find one on the BBC site)

The ability to participate in discussions on news sites and the visibility of the comments definitely affects how the sites are perceived. BBC’s reporting seems more distant and unopinionated to me, in part because of the visual presentation and in part because there is no obvious way to view or participate in a discussion. MSNBC highlights how many comments each story has on the front page and provides a link to jump straight to the discussion, although it’s hidden from direct view on the article itself. Yahoo shows the discussion below the article, which has always seemed dangerous to me; comments sections on the Internet can be brutal and say a lot about the readership of a source. If I find that the comments are destructive or belligerent, or if they’re extreme in any way, I’m less likely to trust the source itself despite the fact that the reporters probably didn’t write those comments.

MSNBC top headlines. Clinton and Obama sound powerful and historic, Obama and Clinton are both portrayed as victims of disgrace or interference, Trump makes questionable moves, they point out that Phyllis Schlafly is “cultural conservative”

From my analyses of these news sources, I’m beginning to understand a little bit more about what each company’s goals may be. BBC News definitely seems to portray a neutral, dissociated perspective: a place to get news from reporters who write on many different topics and from what appears to be an unbiased perspective. MSNBC presents a powerful, confident, curated position that is definitely more liberal (or at least leans towards Democrats). Yahoo pulls from many different sources and can apparently tailor a news feed to each reader; however, to do so, each reader has to filter through all the other articles and ads to reach that point. Yahoo seems to be the source most driven by information, clicks, and a hope to keep the reader on their page (endless scroll, ads presented the same way as stories, clickbait headlines).

09.06 Sharing Findings & Sketching Presentation Prep, Part 1

After a week of analyzing our news sources separately, we got together with our partners to compare notes. Meric and I came up with very similar findings and captured them on a whiteboard. We went through our main points and compared across the three sources. The six points of comparison were: 1) most prominent homepage feature/use of headlines vs. images, 2) image tone, 3) layout, 4) typography, 5) comments/discussion capabilities, 6) content feel.

Captured some of our thoughts on our three sources

After we captured these thoughts, we gave each of our three sources an overall key word:

BBC: balanced, MSNBC: bold, Yahoo: chaotic

After comparing findings with the rest of the class, Stacie had us begin to think about how to present our comparisons in both visual and verbal form. We began to shape the structure of our presentation by putting our sources on a spectrum of character: MSNBC has the strongest character with their bold, expressive, uniform presentation. BBC is in the middle: they know who they are and have a consistent voice but don’t demand so much attention. In Meric’s words, Yahoo has a lack of identity; because they are pulling from so many sources, there isn’t much unifying the content to present a consistent character. This is how we plan to introduce the sources first.

Next, we plan to discuss the key words we gave each source (bold, balanced, chaotic) and the audience demographics for each. This will help us frame our discussion of the form and content.

Third, we’ll discuss what you see first: the top of the homepage for each. For MSNBC, that is the dominating dramatic image and then the bold, heavy white headline. BBC’s standout is their red navigation bar and then the initial headline (more of a focus on written content). Yahoo’s is the chunk of featured content with white headlines overlaid on images again, but without the dramatic contrast that makes such a statement in the MSNBC site.

Then we’ll outline the rest of the layout on the front page, discussing content along the way. MSNBC features stories in a linear fashion. They fashion a narrative that emphasizes US politics through this continuous scroll. Meric called this the “Evening Report” feeling: each story follows after another with a similar tone and presentation. The BBC has more varied content and is neatly chunked into categories with more of an emphasis on the textual content rather than MSNBC’s more cinematic emphasis on contrast-rich images. Then, similarly to MSNBC, Yahoo treats its subsequent stories in the same fashion, one after another. However, they don’t seem cohesive or organized in any way and the lack of organization and room to breathe makes the user experience overwhelming.

If we have time to briefly discuss the mobile presentation of each source’s home page, we will do so. For the most part, the mobile sites follow similar principles: MSNBC is still image-heavy and linear, BBC is still organized into categories and more focused on text, Yahoo is still randomized and presenting story after story. However, because the mobile screen allows the user to see fewer stories at a time, Yahoo’s site becomes much less overwhelming.

Lastly, we’ll revisit our key words and character portrayals, discussing again the audience as well as the level of human curation. MSNBC feels quite heavily curated in an effort to portray this unified, cohesive story. BBC feels curated as well, although not to the extent that MSNBC does; rather, it feels curated and organized in a professional, detached sort of way. Yahoo’s lack of organization or any one standout point of view comes from its lack of curation and its probable use of algorithms to pull from many different sources.

First draft of information flow and possible visualizations

So far, we plan to project each homepage onto the whiteboards and trace out wireframes from there, talking as we go to highlight the most important points. I’m not sure how much of this information we’ll actually be able to fit into the 6–9 allotted minutes.

09.08 Sketching Presentation Prep, Part 2

To get an idea of what we might trace out as we speak, we used tracing paper to emulate drawing on a whiteboard over projections. This helped us begin to figure out what’s most important to highlight, since tracing a literal wireframe with all of the minutiae wouldn’t necessarily pair well with what we want to emphasize (and it would take longer than the time we have to speak about each point).

Tracing paper over printout: showing potential final visual outcome of our presentation

During class, we were given time to work together and talk with Stacie about the work we’ve done so far. As we walked through our sketches and outline with her, she reminded us to keep going back to the ultimate purpose of this project: to help people become better-informed citizens. We plan to discuss aspects of the form like the first things you see on a website, the imagery, and the layout to support our findings about these three sources having very different amounts of presence and perspective.

How does the form dictate how readers see the news?

To help integrate this discussion of why it’s important to be aware of these factors into the entire presentation, we’ll mention our reasoning at both the beginning and the end. We believe readers should be aware of how news source’s choices of presentation shape how they consume the news. That’s why it’s so important for us to be able to look at each source with critical eyes. Being conscious of things like visual tone, content, and curation will help readers remember that each source has its bias and will try to get you to see it from their point of view too. There’s no one “best” source for neutrality or unbiased news, but being aware of a slant and how a company chooses to present their content can help readers become better-informed.

Stacie’s points from the end of class:

  • This is your perspective, your bias: it’s not law.
  • Emphasize points clearly. Remember to get to the point! Don’t get lost in the details. Talk about these points at the beginning and the end.
  • Remember: why is this important? Why should people know about our analysis? Why should they care?

09.15 Sketching Presentation: Before, During, and After

Meric and I met once more before our presentation to rehearse a few times with the whiteboard, slideshow (without a projector: we traced our wireframes out, referencing my computer screen), and a stopwatch to try to stay within that 6–9 minute timeframe. Having practiced before class helped us refine our flow and word choice. It also helped that we were able to remind each other of main points to emphasize.

During these rehearsals, we decided to add the axis of human touch parallel to the character keywords we gave each source. The bold narrative of MSNBC is closely tied to the high level of curation and the randomness of Yahoo reflects its algorithmic back end. Once you notice that, however, it’s easy to perceive Yahoo as less biased: but who programmed the machines that place those articles on the front page? It’s also interesting to pair that spectrum of human touch with the narrative presence (or lack thereof) of each source: MSNBC definitely tries to tell one linear story, BBC provides ways to navigate through their story, and Yahoo doesn’t appear to have any sort of narrative whatsoever. I’m not sure how many of these questions were covered in our presentation, but they’re thought-provoking and would be good jumping-off points for becoming a more critical reader of the news.

Draft of what the whiteboard could look like without projections (and without time pressure: Meric drew this in between our presentation rehearsals)

Looking at this whiteboard now, it’s apparent that we probably could have/should have not relied on the projections so much. We knew what we were going to draw (basically the wireframes with some notation and the axes above) and could probably have benefited from not having to trace so closely the exact websites. I do think it was helpful to see the different visual languages across each site; being able to compare the dark background and bright, contrasty images of MSNBC with the plainer appearance and organization of BBC and Yahoo’s repetition without much hierarchy was important for us (although I’m not sure how much of that we shared during the presentation).

It also struck me that most other groups used notes during their presentation; it wasn’t something we really considered. I think Meric and I are both the types of presenters that work best from keeping important points in our heads and practicing how we’ll say them out loud. Plus, even though it can be more nerve-wracking in thinking you’ll forget something, I feel like I’m connecting better with the audience and being more genuine when I can speak without looking back at notes. Having the notes even available makes me much more likely to use them as a crutch, or something to hide behind.

We got a lot of positive feedback for our use of opacity, acknowledgement of bias, and pulling the mobile view in. Playing with opacity helped the audience focus on what was important at the moment (this was something I mentioned to other groups: the gradual revealing/hiding of information can be really helpful, and I appreciated the way Julia and Willow did that with their printouts). Acknowledging bias obviously tinged the way we viewed each site and was important to me while I was doing my analysis; I wanted to compare with some of my friends who are more conservative to see how they read the visual forms of each site. Meric’s addition of showing the mobile view seemed to catch people’s attention, especially when we made the GIFs scroll. That would be an interesting point to delve further into if we had more time.

If we were to do it again, I’d want to add more words to the drawings to give people a written anchor and reminder of how each point was connected to the main argument. We could also do more to bring the characteristics we discussed into our drawings. It was easy to emphasize MSNBC’s boldness by making heavy-handed, thick strokes on the whiteboard. Perhaps being more visually obvious with the categorical chunking in BBC and showing more of the balance between white space, image, and text would have been helpful. The chaos we saw in Yahoo’s site stemmed mainly from their lack of white space and the apparent randomness of the stories, which I don’t think we visualized well (apart from showing how the infinite scroll went off the whiteboard). Using different colors to show the different categories could help.

09.15 How-To Brainstorming

In class, we got the opportunity to think about our next steps. Having done our analysis and gotten a chance to present about the most important aspects, we’re now ready to form the “how-to” piece that teaches consumers of the news how to become more informed citizens. We began by just answering the question “how do you become a more informed citizen”, framing it in light of the arguments we made during our presentation. Our written steps are below:

  1. Be aware of where you get your information (Facebook? Twitter? Your roommate? A news app? News websites? News aggregators?). Digging down deeper into these sources, where do they get their information? Who’s behind them? How might these factors affect their perspective?
  2. Be aware of their bias. In acknowledging that all sources are affected by who’s behind the information and where they’re getting it, each source is biased. Here, we’ll introduce some sub-steps and tips of ways to read the hierarchy, visual language, content, and layout for clues towards what an Internet news source’s bias might be.
  3. Look for other sides of the story. After getting a better idea of what this source’s stance is, acknowledge that this is just one perspective of many on these news stories. Where else can you access information about the same stories? Have an open mind and be willing to look at other sources, even if their bias opposes yours. Understanding more perspectives gives you a more well-rounded approach to the news and can help you see why people support issues and candidates that may initially seem backwards or offensive to you.
  4. Start shaping your own opinion. While it may end up being in line with a source that you looked at initially, it’s important to be able to see an issue from multiple perspectives. Hearing personal stories and reasoning behind another side of a story can point out flaws in your own reasoning that you might want to acknowledge, or reveal perspectives that you didn’t consider. Being able to step back from the sources to see how these news stories and issues affect different people can help you become a better-informed citizen, and one that’s able to better engage with a national or worldwide conversation.

09.19 Audience & Medium

We met briefly to discuss our audience and medium for the how-to. Our steps are broad and we believe they’re important for pretty much everyone, so that didn’t really help us in deciding on a medium. Instead of taking a linear approach, we decided to let audience and medium evolve hand-in-hand. We discussed making (or prototyping) an interactive website using parallax and/or animated infographic effects (see Dangers of Fracking or Slavery Footprint). We also talked about creating interactive paper materials, like a brochure or mailer, that can be manipulated (folded, pulled, rotated, etc.) to reveal information over time. We didn’t decide on a final form in our meeting, hoping instead to further narrow down the audience and the medium through making and experimenting with form.

09.20 Diving Deeper into Form & Content

Today in class we had another work session. Stacie mentioned a few things to keep in mind as we organized content and began to get deeper into form: LATCH-ways to organize (location, alphabetical, time, category, hierarchy), color (connotations, contrast/hierarchy), type (connotations, legibility, readability), image (again, connotations), and layout/grid. At the end of class, she also talked about focusing on our step-by-step instructions and not just awareness: pragmatically, what are the steps one might take to become a more well-informed citizen?

Meric and I spent a lot of time working on the form of our piece after touching base with Jiyoung, our TA, who pushed us to get into how we could best represent our steps. Because our steps are very generalized, we need to pay careful attention to how people are understanding them and give our audience concrete sub-steps to take towards our broader ones. We especially focused on steps 1 & 2: knowing one’s sources and being aware of bias. How does one become aware of bias? What sort of things might they look for?

Together, we sketched and talked through our material and potential form. We had discussed creating animated, interactive websites but decided it would take too long after looking through some tutorials and example source code (perhaps this would be a fun thing to play with over a school break, but it doesn’t fit well into the scope of this project). We instead moved into looking at how we’d present the information visually and decide on a medium and audience through that making-to-learn process.

We’ve come up with some initial illustration/visualization directions and will continue to work on the verbal content.

  1. Know Your Sources. In the first two steps, we’re planning to use our analyses of BBC, MSNBC, and Yahoo as examples of our written steps. For Step 1, we plan to show each source as a skyscraper with some background information about each source: perhaps readership, history, maybe business goals. Directional written content will ask readers to consider/learn about these factors.
  2. Be Aware of the Sources’ Bias. Here we’ll show a “zoomed-in” view of an office from each of these skyscrapers, with characteristics similar to the keywords we gave the sources during our analysis. Below that, we’ll show examples of hierarchy, visual language, and content for each. Directional written content will more specifically call out how to look at hierarchy, visual language, content, etc.
  3. Look for Other Sides of the Story. This will show a road and will unfold to show more buildings that represent more news sources of different perspectives, perhaps with some information about their biases as well. Written content will address open-mindedness and “listening to” (in this case, reading) other stories.
  4. Form Your Own Opinion. Here we might show a landscape with a person taking in all this information and being confident in who they are. Written content will discuss how having “listened to” all these other stories may affect your own opinion. It will also address that your opinion may not have changed, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing: what is most important here is to know why people may see it from a different perspective, and to know how to engage people in healthy discussions, instead of becoming insulated from opinions that differ from your own.

The form we landed on at the end of class is a print piece that is foldable and cut to afford certain interactions. We’re not sure how large the final piece will be yet, which will partly be determined by how much text we end up wanting to fit into it and partly be determined by the physicality of the item itself (we don’t want it to be too unwieldy like some large maps can be, since that would be a hindrance to interaction and understanding). While our steps are applicable to a really broad audience, we quickly drew up two very generalized “personas”: a liberal college student and a conservative middle-aged career woman, both of whom tend to find themselves in partisan bubbles. Both of them get their news from the same few sources, and neither of them participate in many conversations that are deeper and more empathic than a Facebook argument. We are leaning more towards designing for this college student, although the older woman may easily be impacted by this as well. We hope that our audience will be able to engage in conversations and maybe even be able to play devil’s advocate after following these steps.

How the prototype unfolds
Iterations of our form, with some (quite messy) sketches visible to the right

09.22 More Content Work

As I work on more verbal content before bringing it to Meric for feedback, I’m writing up some principles and questions to understand what the tone of the language should be. I’m trying to keep both personas in mind but I’m having trouble envisioning a form and tone that would reach both of them equally. I also just don’t feel like I know that much about the type and tone of material that a conservative middle-aged career woman might read, so I’m scrolling through Facebook pages of women from the church I went to at home to see what sorts of content they share (beyond photos of their families and pets).

Be clear, but not didactic. Allow people to make their own decisions. Present these steps as a suggestion, not a demand. Encourage people to understand more perspectives, but don’t shame them for not having done so. Also, don’t assume that they haven’t done so. …how do we bring them in? What is the frame of mind they’re coming in with? Are they already open to broadening their understanding by reading more perspectives and coming into conversation with them? Or do we have to convince them to do so?

As I continue to peruse their Facebook pages, I keep being surprised by the links they post. I’m seeing a lot of local news on things being done by churches serving the community. I’m also seeing a lot of memes or text-on-images being shared. I did see a few videos/links shared that definitely lean more conservatively and put a strong stance forward. (This study, of course, is skewed towards those who actively share things on Facebook.)

Some examples of the content these women share on Facebook

I often don’t share my own thoughts directly to my Facebook page because I know I’m still Facebook friends with this church community that often has political stances that are opposed to mine, and I don’t want to get into Facebook arguments (or have people who don’t know each other get into Facebook arguments on my page). I’ve been trying to click on their links and read their perspectives, though, to understand where they’re coming from. It can be really difficult though since a lot of their posts assume a “correct” way of thinking or the “truth” which is more subjective in my opinion than in theirs. I hope that our project helps people who have different perspectives on current events and politics to see where others are coming from. I also hope it can help people explore opinions apart from the worldviews they’ve always lived within and see subjectivity and gray areas rather than black and white.

What I’ve taken away from these links is that a lot of the language they’re sharing on Facebook is… not that different from the rest of Facebook. There’s a lot of clickbait, memes, cute videos, and recipes being shared around. They’re also really interested in community involvement (many of them through churches). There are, like around Facebook in general, political/societal comments that generalize an opposing perspective or put forth their perspective as the only “right” or “correct” or “moral” way. It’s not all that different from young university students saying “I don’t understand how Trump has made it this far” though. This is the group I easily fall into. It’s so easy to only see this election in particular from one perspective and not try to understand how Trump is reaching so many people. In my own explorations, I’ve learned a lot about Trump’s supporters and have begun to see them as more human than before. This doesn’t mean I’ve changed my mind about him, but it does mean I make more of an effort to listen to the perspectives that he represents.

Meric and I talked about reaching people who are entrenched in either party’s mindset. He mentioned that liberal college students are often just as resistant to the opposite perspective, perceiving that point of view as “dumb” without engaging in a conversation to understand the human stories behind the politics.

Content as it stands now:

Know your sources. Where do you go to get information about the news? Who’s behind those stories? Looking just a bit into the history, leadership, and readership of each news source can be really revealing. Then, use that understanding of where each reporter might be coming from to see the story through their eyes as they’ve reported it.

Be aware of their bias. Just by reading, watching, or listening to these stories, you’re also taking in the story through the source’s lens. It’s really important to be able to see and acknowledge their bias, whether or not it’s different from yours. Why did they choose to emphasize what they did? How are they emphasizing it? Where are you clearly seeing their bias? Some tips for reading bias:

  • What do you see or hear first when you come to a source? Is it a headline, an image, a video, a quote? In what light does this content portray any important people in the story?
  • What types of stories does this source feature? Why do you think they feature those stories? Go back to what you know about each source to answer these questions.
  • Look carefully at the images. What’s most important about the images? What sort of impression do you get from these images of the people in them?
  • What sort of feeling does the source create overall? Is it clearly presenting a point of view, or does it seem more balanced? Why do you think the creators of the source have chosen to give you that feeling?

Look for other sides of the story. After getting a better idea of what your go-to source’s stance is, acknowledge that this is just one perspective of many on these news stories. Where else can you access information about the same stories? Have an open mind and be willing to look at other sources, even if their bias opposes yours. Understanding more perspectives gives you a more well-rounded approach to the news and can help you see why people support issues and candidates that may seem backwards or offensive to you. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can go through steps 1 and 2 for each of these sources as well.

Start shaping your own opinion. While it may end up being in line with a source that you looked at initially, it’s important to be able to see an issue from multiple perspectives. Hearing personal stories and reasoning behind another side of a story can point out flaws in your own reasoning that you might want to acknowledge, or reveal perspectives that you didn’t consider. Being able to step back from the sources to see how these news stories and issues affect different people can help you become a better-informed citizen, and one that’s able to better engage with a national or worldwide conversation.

09.22–25 Explorations of Form, Direction, More Content Work

We started our work session by looking at Stacie’s notes & questions: why the visuals/what are the connotations? Why the form/how will that connect with the audience and hold their interest?

We’re representing each source as a uniquely illustrated skyscraper to show each one as a corporation with a specific identity, history, and audience. Imposing and grand, these buildings–and these news sources–have a prominent position in our landscapes of view.

In considering the form, Stacie reminded us that we only need a proof-of-concept and not a fully built solution. She also nudged us to ask how our audience finds what we’re making. While an interactive folded print piece could be a lot of fun to make, it didn’t make sense for our audience, so we’ve shifted back to the idea of making an interactive website/infographic. Our current concept:

We plan to create an interactive website to reach our audience with practical steps and critical questions to ask about how they get their news. Our intended audience consists of anyone who gets their news mainly from one perspective–but in particular, we’ve created personas of a left-leaning college student and a right-leaning career woman. If we were to fully build out this project, we would also create short (less than a minute) video teasers that would appear on social media when our website’s link is posted through social media campaigns to political candidates, community organizations, and popular Facebook “liked” pages. In our website, we present a series of questions and actionable steps to become better-informed citizens: an introduction about “what’s inside the news”, how to know your sources well (facts about the organizations), how to read their bias (analysis of visual language, hierarchy, imagery, character), and looking into other sources, with a short conclusion about participating in discussions and forming your own opinion. These are situated within the visual metaphor of a cityscape with skyscrapers each representing a news source, with distinct facades and offices representing the unique characteristics and perspectives of each source.
Our messy, quick sketch of the website’s layout

Stop 1. Where do you get your news? Visuals: Blue sky, tops of three unique skyscrapers. Limited facts and infographics about the three sources we compared: MSNBC, BBC, Yahoo. Written content: Know your sources well. Do you trust them? Who typically reads these sources? Who’s in leadership? What’s their history? All these factors, and more, affect how each source understands and presents the news.

Stop 2. Who’s behind the news? Visuals: facades of three skyscrapers, view to inner office spaces. Written content: It’s really easy to see bias when reporters are speaking or writing from a point of view that you don’t share. However, it’s much harder to see it when their point of view aligns with yours, and this doesn’t mean they’re less biased. Each reporter and each news source brings their own take on the news based on what’s most important to them.

Stop 2a. Hierarchy, tone, and imagery. Visuals again: wireframes or screenshots of three sources’ websites. Written content: What do you see first, and why is it emphasized? Some sources tend to feature large, cinematic photos while others emphasize the headlines and written content. How are important figures and events portrayed in photos and videos? What sorts of descriptions are your news sources giving, and how does shape your impression of certain events, figures, and perspectives?

Stop 2b. Featured content. Visuals: featured content/top stories section highlighted. Written content: What types of stories does this source feature? Why do you think they feature those stories? The featured content shapes the way you take in the news as a whole. In some cases, a source might choose to highlight stories around one category, while other sources might choose them according to an algorithm.

Stop 2c. Character. Visuals: wireframes/screenshots with spectrum & characteristics included. Written content: What sort of feeling does the source give you? Some news sources come across with a stronger character and a bolder argument, and others seem more subdued (but still have made decisions on what to report on and how to portray subjects). Why do you think the creators of the source have chosen to give you that feeling?

Stop 3. Look for other perspectives. Visuals: scroll to road. Written content: What sort of feeling does the source give you? Some news sources come across with a stronger character and a bolder argument, and others seem more subdued (but still have made decisions on what to report on and how to portray subjects). Why do you think the creators of the source have chosen to give you that feeling? Visuals: zoom out to see more of the cityscape.

Stop 4. Closing. Visuals: scroll down past cityscape, city metaphor over. Written content: While your opinion and perspective may not have changed after all this exploration, it’s important to be able to see an issue from multiple perspectives. Hearing personal stories and reasoning behind another side of a story can point out flaws in your own reasoning that you might want to acknowledge, or reveal perspectives that you didn’t consider. Being able to step back from the sources to see how these news stories and issues affect different people can help you become a better-informed citizen, and one that’s able to better engage with a national or worldwide conversation.

(Think of each “stop” as a separate scene on the website. Scrolling through the website will bring you through each stop. Stops 2a-c might not even include much of a scrolling background, just some sort of interaction or navigation that brings up these sub-stops)

I’m still working on fleshing out clear content that follows the principles below. Meric is working on creating a wireframe-like layout and inspiration for our visual language. We’ll meet again tomorrow to go over the work we’ve both done and make sure we’re still on the same page.

Be clear, but not didactic. Allow people to make their own decisions. Present these steps as a suggestion, not a demand. Encourage people to understand more perspectives, but don’t shame them for not having done so. Also, don’t assume that they haven’t done so. …how do we bring them in? What is the frame of mind they’re coming in with? Assume they’re open, and assume that they understand.

09.27 Concept Feedback & Next Steps

In class today, we did some rounds of “speed dating” for concept feedback. Meric and I took turns pitching our concept in three minutes. We then received feedback in two minutes from the group we were pitching to. We went through this process five times before moving on to listening to other groups’ pitches and giving them feedback. Here are some things we heard:

What we showed for feedback: a “wireframe” with written content and basic illustrations
  • Be really clear that our use of the three sources are as examples of how you might answer these questions. Multiple people were confused by that
  • Pare down text content
  • What’s in it for me? How do we capture people’s attention and keep them scrolling?
  • Which source is which? Float labels down as you keep scrolling down the page–it’s easy to get lost
  • Isolate each “chapter” on the page. Right now they’re running into each other
  • Have a more provocative opening question
  • Make little page-switcher bubbles (for clicking through tips in step 2)
  • Make content and questions more “glanceable”
  • Take the skyscraper metaphor further: all the people inside. Maybe different floors have web designers, reporters, photographers… this would add to illustration needs but could be fun
  • Is there a main thing we want you to know? -> Be more conscious of the whole building, not just what you see on top or the outside.
  • Can we add visualizations of building foundations? What are they built on? What does this mean for you, our reader?

Most of these points are things we’ll include easily in our next iteration, since a lot of the feedback was on layout, visual design, and content. We discussed adding a visualization of the building foundation. We’ll also work on editing content and creating visuals for Step 2, the most in-depth analysis-focused step, which didn’t have the appropriate visuals for presentation in class today.

Some of the points we heard in our feedback had to do with the way we presented as well. We’ve thought through the sharing of our website via a social media campaign and materials provided to people/publications with wide followings. We’d include a GIF or short video of a general overview of the website, maybe giving a viewer the chance to “see” into a particular source that might be most applicable to them. After we mentioned that thinking to people who asked about it, they seemed satisfied; we should make sure to include that point in our final presentation.

We used Keynote’s Magic Move to scroll quickly through this PDF; we plan to move away from putting all our illustrations on one artboard for now and using Keynote or AfterEffects to more accurately animate interactions as we envision them. For example, we want Step 3 with the road to actually zoom out to see more skyscrapers within a “city-scape” or “news-scape”; that’s not easily accomplishable with a static PDF. We instead plan to illustrate things separately on different artboards and then bring them together in Keynote or AfterEffects.

We created a list of things to illustrate, content to edit/add, and things to keep in mind when we assemble our next iteration (due Thursday in prototype form). I am mainly responsible for the written content and visualizations/illustrations for Step 2, and Meric is working on most of the rest.

09.29 Prototype

For class today, we worked on some more illustrations and are again using Keynote to prototype (this will probably also be our final form for this project). There are still some issues to work out with Keynote’s Magic Move as well as illustrations/visualizations to add in and/or update.

For this prototype, I created the wireframe illustrations embedded within Step 2 (0:28–0:38 in the above video). I also began work on the office illustrations, which will be reworked. We decided on a visual style and I created the visual presentation of the type based on that. (The visual style hasn’t been applied to the entire prototype yet.)

L: color scheme and type choices based on the direction we were initially going with. R: testing something a bit more subdued

For our next iteration, I plan to work on the office illustrations, apply the visual design scheme to each of the pieces, and more carefully assemble them in Keynote. This assembly will probably include more precise motion and potentially shadows/textures to more clearly differentiate between layers.

10.04 Final Prep

For the final output, we went through a few more iterations of illustrations and mocked up social media screens to demonstrate how someone might find our website. We also made a screen recording of the prototype in action (however, it’s very slow due to the size of the assets, the Keynote file itself, and the additional task of recording).

Social media screens
Final images