My first class started out by talking about wind-up toys! How much cooler can a design course get? Our exercise of examining the toys to try to get a sense of what they would do when wound up told me that we’re going to spend this semester analyzing and picking a part various aspects of design. But what exactly?
The course followed with a very insightful exercise; how to group pieces of information together. My group sorted through “What you do for fun” and “An interesting tidbit about yourself.” The first was easy, and the second… not so much. But as we were discussing in class, what made parts of this task ‘easy’ is when all of the little statements fit neatly into the categories. What happened when they didn’t? Well, that’s where we had to get creative. Our group came up with some sub-categories, but the more I thought about those categories, the more I realized I could group them according to completely different categories.
Project 1 Preparations
I’m keeping an eye on the political sections of NPR, USA Today and Google News.
My first impression of USA Today’s layout (and this is the first of the sites that I looked at) is that it’s very image based, and those images are almost exclusively red, white and blue (of course!)
It would appear that there isn’t much of a bias here; both candidates are represented and there is nothing overly negative (or positive) about either of them.
It’s fairly easy to discern when there’s a continual segment here. The headline beings with that segment followed by a colon. Then comes the title of the piece. For instance, “One Nation: Join the conversation.” With the exception of the main story, the typefaces do not over power the page.
Google, on the other hand, uses its layout to give the sense that it really is a news aggregate. Instead of everything neatly arranged in a grid, the stories are in more of a list. In fact, if I didn’t know that this page was political, I might not until I read some of the headlines or looked at some of the pictures.
This layout doesn’t feel as coherent as that of USA Today, but perhaps that is a good thing. Would a news agency want users to feel that they are unbiased. In a way, the ‘prettier’ USA Today gives that sense that more time was spent on preparing this page and perhaps by extension, more thought (or bias) went into the layout of this page.
NPR was the 3rd one I looked at and I was surprised to find that it was the least cluttered of any of the sites. They only show three headlines before giving way to a well-placed advertisement to their podcasts and tweets — suggesting that a large portion of their news is received by podcast or social media.
After scrolling further down, there are large headlines for subsequent articles and podcasts. It’s a very neat and clean design with plenty of white space. Their choices of images are not elusively red, white and blue. To me this suggests that NPR is going out of its way to convey the sense that it’s the least biased among the three. It’s paying attention to the content, and not just aggregating it, but also doing so in a very open and honest way.
As expected, in terms of splash (somewhat related to the amount of white space — in my opinion), the order of the websites is NPR » Google » USA Today. It’s not that I don’t ‘trust’ USA Today because of this design difference, but if anything, I feel that the additional white space of NPR does convey a sense of neutrality.
It is now time to look at these websites again and closer. But lets dig deeper and think about why the designers did what they did. Why are the particular fonts chosen, does anything stand out about the photography? How do these choices convey the goals and interests of the company and suggest what the ethics and responsibilities of the designer might entail.
Let’s look at USA Today again.
Since USA Today is viewed by conservatives and liberals alike, I would imagine that the company, and thus, the designers are trying to not show bias and to appeal to their audience. (Seems to make sense to me).
One way it seems like they are doing this is through the use of type. The font is very clear, clean and straight forward. When I think about whether or not a certain font face equates to one political party over the other, I (for no particular reason) feel that a ‘liberal’ font would be thinner with serifs and a ‘conservative’ font would be bolder and San-serif. By that scale, it seems that designers at USA Today are keeping the fonts to a middle ground to reflect and to appeal to their viewers.
One thing that struck me with their homepage is the ‘wall of pictures’ that I’m presented with. There is very little white space. While aside from the lead story, the text is rather small and doesn’t get in the way. They choose to let the pictures do the talking. If you examine the photo associated with each story, it gives you more information. For instance, the headline “U.S. Plan: Hit ISIL before they grab human shields” doesn’t directly say how they will be hit. We may all already know this, but the photo fills in that detail by showing an image of smoke from an explosion.
The smaller stories each have their own ‘category’ headline. Regardless of the size of this (or any site) having categories would indicate that they are large enough to warrant these indicators. How are smaller news sources perceived?
As I mentioned before, I think Google News very much as the look and feel of a news aggregate and looking at their design further, the type really does a lot to convey that. There are no special colors for links, no special font. I’ve highlighted the links in red. With the exception of the top story, there is nothing to make one story stand out over the other — other than their order.
The overall look and feel to this page does not differ that much from that of their search engines. And I think that makes absolute sense for them. Their business is the search functionality and conveying a sense of commonality with their news ‘feed’ and their search engine would make sense for the company’s goals.
NPR, out of all of my sources, actually uses the heaviest type face for their stories. This surprised me. With NPR being the most liberal out of the websites I’m covering, I would have expected them to use the lightest font for their headline. Instead, they have a shorter and stronger font. If I look at the font directly, I almost think it’s from a more conservative source. (As I mentioned above, I see liberal equating to a taller, serif font, while something like this, a shorter, bolder font would suggest this content had a more conservative bias to me).
However, in the case of NPR, thinking about the focus and goals of the company, plus the amount of white space on their page, the stories are what are most important. (I know — you could say that about all of these sites) The headline is king and it should be represented in a strong way to show the emphasis that is placed upon the news, and their commitment toward responsible journalism.
Compare & Contrast
One interesting difference between these sites is how much information is contained with the link for each story. As I mentioned, USA Today, has a short title plus a descriptive photo. Google has a straightforward title plus a small image. NPR, by contrast, has a title, blurb, photo and even a possible related link all within the section for the top two stories. Then to contrast, further down, their latest news stories have the least out of any of my sources. It’s just the headline, while Google and USA Today still have a photo attached to it.
After examining each of these pages closer, I’m still unsure of which one I like best, or which one I feel is the most functional. There are various aspects of each of them that work well. I certainly appreciate being able to glean as much as I can from a small snippet of the whole content of an article. That in itself makes that link and that article stand out. If everything was weighted exactly the same, it would be impossible to give focus on just one or several things. And NEWS is one area where its imperative that important issues have their exposure and time to be seen and heard.
Today’s class dealt with the idea of furthering the analysis of our three news sites. We tried to break down the aspects of each site that we felt was important and wanted to convey. But just like assigning adjectives to fonts, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact feeling that we’re thinking about and to get it down onto paper, a screen or white board.
We also learned more about where we’re heading with this project; specifically what we’re going to have to do in order to take our conceptual lists and turn them into more of a narrative. Together with my partner Lisa, we created an outline, but then were stuck. How do we make this stand out? How do we show the process which differentiates Google from NPR and from USA Today? The fact that Google doesn’t create their own sources seemed like a good place to start our white boarding since it’s one of the major differences between the three that I’d like to convey.
Then, all of a sudden I had an idea! How could I show that these news stories come from outside Google? Why a diagram of course!
I have all of these news sources pointing to Google. Building on that, Lisa drew a ‘pac-man’ character which processed the stories in a sense. While we don’t quite know what their algorithm is, we can deduce certain aspects of it. We were both really excited about the potential for this as a narrative!
The challenge that lies ahead is to come up with a great way to illustrate their algorithm and to apply that affect to our other sources, USA Today and NPR.
Sketch out Presentation
Today was mostly a work day to meet with my group partner to sketch out some of our ideas onto the whiteboard and hopefully come up with the beginning of our presentation.
I came in rather optimistic due to the breakthrough we had last time. It’s certainly something which can be built upon. However, as everyone is different, both Lisa and I had some different (but good) ideas on how to proceed.
My first thought was that we could select the best of our ideas and integrate them into a more cohesive project. But as time went on, I felt like we were each trying to steer the project in one direction over another (as compared with adding smaller bits without changing the project’s course.)
As the day wore on, we really began to struggle with finding our over-arching theme and question relating to this project. What exactly are we trying to get at? Stacie came by and had some really good things to say about not loosing focus of the overall direction, but in some sense that ended up confusing us even more. When we tried to pull away from the details we had sorted out, it felt like they were floating in space. How do we pull them in and sort them out and organize them into a cohesive narrative?
While we definitely had some mental exercise in class, we ended the day the way we started — deciding that we need to sort out our ideas and figure out how to integrate them when we next meet. As Stacie said, I think mentally backing off from this project for the time being will help. But I couldn’t honestly say that I’m not worried that a solution will remain elusive for us.
Today was the day, or so I thought that we would all be giving our news analysis presentations. (Since our group and one other group’s did not use a projector, we went last. That pushed our presentations to Thursday, but I’m still going to include it in Tuesday’s post to keep it more cohesive.)
It was really cool to see everyone’s presentations. One could argue that our assignments were fairly similar, yet each group came up with unique and inventive ways of conveying their information.
I still have mixed opinions on the use of the project with this project. I felt some of the groups relied on it too much — it would have been cool if they had turned it off after they marked up the white board and then focused on those markups. In many occasions, the marks were rather indistinguishable with the use of the projector.
I think the bigger issue was the convenience of the projector allowed groups to include probably too much information that I started to gloss over. I also found it rather difficult to give the groups 100% of my attention because I was also trying to think of and record relevant notes for their feedback.
But enough about the negatives, how about the positives? There were a lot of creative ways to not only break down what the various news outlets were showing us, but there was a lot of different analysis on aspects of those sites.
There are two visual details which stood out that I feel are worth mentioning. One is how one group used opacity to fade out the segments of the site which they didn’t want us to focus on at the moment. That was a great design. One group used a black background and white or colored text for their content which I thought worked really well! The black background just looked like part of the whiteboard which was not being projected on. It made the content stand out even more.
I was initially confident about presenting on Tuesday, but as they class wore on, I had too much time to think about the fact that I had a presentation coming up and my thoughts began to get the better of me. But that turned out to be a moot point as we ended up presenting on Thursday.
As mentioned earlier, we were one of two groups which didn’t use projection. At first, as other groups were presenting, I was a little concerned that our project would be lacking. But somewhere in there, Stacie commented that some of the presentations grew a little too long and contained a lot of information. This actually reassured me, our presentation would not be too long or too detailed, but would instead attempt to focus on one idea: Does Personality affect Trustworthiness?
Our argument: yes it does, but should it? By comparing Google News to Pac-Man and a computerized system, NPR to a school teacher, and USA Today to a TV anchor or a used car salesman, we tried to assign character to each of these sites. A calm teacher may come across as more believable than a used car salesman shouting numbers at you to convince you to plop down thousands of dollars, but what evidence is there? The car salesman could be by far the more honest of the two, and the teacher could be quiet with ulterior motives. The important aspect to convey is that YOU should be the judge. You shouldn’t believe everything that you hear, read or watch.
We received rather positive comments. Hooray for constructive criticism! But I think my favorite comment was from Julia. “Jesse, your voice is so teacherly and easy for me to listen to without getting bored. You sound like a youtube video narration, like a Crash Course video or something.” That made me smile; it’s something I had never really considered. I’ve always been so focused on what I’m saying and never how I’m saying something, delivery is certainly important too.
Conclusions from Presentations
What would I have done differently? While both Lisa and I stand by our decision not to use projection or other visuals, there are certainly ways we could have improved our presentation. Many of those I think are similar to suggestions received by the rest of the class.
- More practice (with or without technology)
- More visualizations and writing to strengthen argument
- Increased use of keywords to highlight important points
- Make sure visuals are informative (and not there to take up space) and connect with what we are saying
- The labeling & heading (if you tune out, can you figure out what’s going on?)
- Clarity and simplicity of content and story
- How can you make something meaningful, engaging, and yet simple?
And last, a question posed by Stacie, “could you re-shoot in 2–3 minutes?” is interesting to consider. It would encourage (or force) us each to reduce our presentations to its key ideas.
It’s time to think about how to take some of what we’ve learned from analyzing these sources and use it to think about how to create a how to in order to “become a better informed citizen.”
A few points we went over:
- This project should be glanceable
- Clear and concise text
- Transitions are clear/logical
- Information isn’t redundant
- Repetition? Does something need to be repeated to convey importance?
- Which perspective to take? (ex: next to someone to show them how to tie shoes)
- Hierarchy/Show steps (and numbers)
- The end goal?
Some important issues to think about are:
- The target audience
- The medium (text/image/video)
- Keeping the scale manageable for us (how to analyze one website is too small of a project — it doesn’t show anyone how to be better informed in general.
- Clear and thoughtful communication
- Don’t let content dictate form — come up with a plan that will lead itself to content and mediums
After a quick brainstorming session, Lisa and I quickly arrived on an idea: Twitter. What if we created a Twitter account that would tweet helpful ideas out. These tweets together would make up a handy guide, each representing a minor suggestion helping the reader become better informed. It would teach them (hopefully) to recognize what is actually going on with the way news sites present information.
One cool but also intimidating aspect to this is that our project would be accessible to the general public on Twitter. Hopefully it will benefit people outside of our class, but it certainly adds a unique twist to this medium.
Given the versatility of a platform such as Twitter, we can create images and videos to reinforce our points. The short amount of text allowed in a tweet will force us to be clean and concise with our ideas.
As this is going to be exclusively online, we’re targeting 18 year olds who will be voting in their first election. Perhaps they’re somewhat aware of the political landscape and what part the media plays. Perhaps they aren’t, but we will endeavor to give them a good start at learning what they need to know to be a well informed citizen.
A new week, a new set of problems. After our excitement last week of the idea of using Twitter to present our thoughts, our ideas in class today essentially stalled. We had a lot of random ideas about various aspects to the puzzle, and a cool idea for the medium, but not a lot of connections.
We spent a fair bit of time (too much, really) thinking about what our main direction was and how do we connect our ideas from last week to it. I feel that I was working on the assumption that I could lay out all of these minute details into tweets about what news sites were doing to alter the connotation of…the news. But that doesn’t really lead to what our argument is:
“Personality does not equal trustworthiness.”
How do we connect everything back to that? It’s almost like out of all of our ideas for tweets, now only a fraction of them are still valid, and even thus, we need to re-develop many of our ideas.
Our discussion with Stacie was helpful — she as always gave us some good pointers and direction, but we still not only have to get there ourselves, but determine exactly where we are going. I felt the tension rise as time went on without our group being able to jump ahead to more final planning.
On that note, I can’t stress how important communication is among group members — especially when we are throwing around some abstract concepts and ideas. I think that it can be easy at time to mis understand what is trying to be said and I’ve found that trying to rephrase statements in very simple terms is helpful.
In the end, we re-evaluated our original idea and found it to have many great concepts, but the task at hand is to continue to re-define some of our ideas and figure out how they could contribute to the larger message that we’re trying to convey.
Our group has literally been all over the place by this point. We explore one idea, got so far and then got stuck. Explored a different idea, and got so far and got stuck.
We are really good at coming up with ways to implement an idea and supporting evidence, but with each iteration, we get stuck working with the same aspect of the problem.
Note* At the suggestion of our TA, we moved away from our Twitter idea to more of a narrative about the “life of a news story,” which is also interesting, but…
We can’t seem to figure out what our overarching theme should be. We have come up with some great examples of ways to show what manipulation has happened to a news story in order to interject bias, but where we’re getting stuck on is why. Why should we show this? Why would someone care? What’s the consequence of someone not being a well informed citizen in this regard? Those answers continue to allude us.
When I try to answer some of those questions myself, I don’t come up with very useful thoughts. I think to myself “well, someone would want to read our analysis so they can see subtle ways that news is being manipulated and so that they aren’t blind to bias.” When pressed with the question of what are the consequences of that, my thoughts go straight to the extreme of “So they aren’t influenced to vote for the wrong presidential candidate.” Or maybe more precisely, “so they are more aware of what each person stands for on their own and not because some newscaster or editor told them what to think.” We want everyone to be able to think for themselves. But is that a strong enough position to take for this project? Isn’t that the goal in itself?
And when I come back to thinking about the medium for this project, I continue to think about some of the cool aspects of doing this on Twitter that we originally came up with. I like some of the ideas we had about the presentation available to us on Twitter. But that and a narrative based on the life of a news story seem like opposite ends of a spectrum.
Lisa and I have been thinking a lot about what the synthesis of our project would be. We’ve come up with some great ideas as far as ways to convey a point go, but have struggled to tie everything together.
We at first considered creating a Twitter feed, but changed that to more of a narrative of a news story because the path seemed clearer. After re-examining our situation again and coming up with a possible direction, we’re looking at Twitter again!
This time, we have a strong set of objectives that is driving us forward
- Encourage our users to look at multiple sources
- Don’t fall prey to sensational and misleading headlines
- Convey what the tone of images means
- Click bait traps
- Know your source(s)
There are some major consequences for not being so informed. We aim to show that these consequences are:
- Missing key info
- Focus on irrelevant issues
- Unnecessary emotional reactions
In the end, we want to encourage our users to form their own opinions through our commentary. Each objective will be conveyed through a tweet or series of tweets .
The format we’re establishing contains 3 parts.
- The Introductory Statement. This will most often be an observation that we make.
- The Proof. This will be screenshots of news articles that prove our point.
- The Call to Action. This will be a strong and blunt statement attempting to point out the obvious and tell the user to do something about it.
On that note, here is an sample tweet:
Fox News and WSJ headlines for similar stories. How different do these look to you?
Guess what: SAME PARENT COMPANY!! Here’s proof (add link)
Armed with a much better idea of what we’re doing, Lisa and I were finally able to talk more about details and to start creating actual content for our project.
But it’s interesting to consider how we’ve almost come ‘full circle’ with the development of our project. We started with Twitter, moved away from it and returned to it.
Below is a simple visual I made to illustrate that path. While we ended up back in the same area that we started, our plan of using Twitter was much stronger and more concrete than it initially was. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we had to move away from our first idea in order to reach our final plan, there is a certain story to tell about the journey we took to get from where we started to where we ended up.
Meeting with and talking to other groups in this class was quite helpful. Not only were we able to get interesting feedback from others, we were able to get a sense of how others reacted to our idea. But another big part of it was that it allowed us to get a sense of where we were in relation to the rest of the class. Despite the non-competitive nature of our program, It was reassuring to realize that we weren’t the only group who has run into some difficulties along the way. At times I felt like we were the only ones who ‘didn’t have it all sorted out.’ What I found was that we all had questions about our direction to some extent. No one had everything all figured out yet.
Some key take-a-ways from our conversations with Stacie and the other groups were that we need to focus on our content. To hone in what we are saying and what message we are trying to convey is key. We also realized that there has to be a reason that people will want to follow us on Twitter. There has to be some enjoyment factor here. Without followers how will what we are trying to do help anyone? One idea that we’re working on is a persona for our feed. Political satires are rather successful and we were thinking of giving our tweets more of a blunt and satirical tone. (Think Daily Show or John Oliver, but less polished…at this point.)
At this point of the project, our goals are to finalize our content (tweets) and make sure that our message is clear and precise. Another critical challenge is to come up with an appropriate Twitter handle (or name) to use. I’ve never been good at picking these. And having to come up with something clever on the fly? That could take a while. Hopefully like other forms of inspiration, this will come to me when I’m not trying to think of it! And as part of this, we are working on coming up with appropriate hashtags to go along with the sets of objectives that we have for our audience.
Moving onto project two for the moment, we’ve been working on creating descriptions for each project. The latest phase was to refine what we’ve been working on into a more cohesive document consisting of just a few short paragraphs.
I like where my description is. After explaining it to my teammate and getting feedback, I don’t think I have much more editing to do. Maybe I could explain a few topics with short definitions, but I think the overall explanation is pretty good.
The title I chose for this project is “File Formats.” We went over a lot of Don Moyer’s work on illustrating points. Among other things, he talked about drawing comparisons, which will be quite useful in my eventual deliverable for this project.
I’m going to be comparing file types, forms of compression and file size. I think it will be easy to compare large files and small files. But I will try to keep in mind some of his examples on comparisons. We need to come up with who the actors are, and I’m a little confused about the topic. Are the actors every element that would be in a story board? Are they only the things that illicit moment or change? If so, then I think the compression algorithms themselves could be the actors. But how to illustrate that? Maybe a factory or even a person with appropriate labels?
One additional note, we saw some final presentations and while they look great, they are somewhat intimidating. We have a loooong way to go between now and a finished project.
Much progress has been made and our Twitter idea has been fully fleshed out and created.
It’s exciting to finally be able present our idea and see the fleshed out ideas of our classmates’ projects.
To start, I felt that our project presentation went really well! Lisa and I were able to fully formulate our ideas in both our Twitter feed and our presentation leading up to showing our Twitter to the class.
We ended up with 11 tweets relating to tone of images, verifying multiple news sources, clickbait traps, headlines and the sources of news stories. We tried to be as non biased as possible, despite our preference for one candidate versus the other in the upcoming political election.
Please check out our Twitter feed and view what we have done! @How2TheNews