ComD Project 1: Navigating Information
How Might We Become Better Informed Citizens?
During this summer, I had a chance to stay in Berlin and work for a startup company which helps refugees have online college courses for free. Despite of my limited German, I watched TV and online news every day and tried to get to know how European news providers give information to readers. Indeed, that was a great time for me to think about how media provide biased information about refugee crisis, Turkey and muslim immigrants.
It is very important to distinguish facts from editors’ opinions. However, readers, including ourselves, are so susceptible to provocative headlines and fabricated statistics. Through this project, I will analyze the information structure of each news sources and suggest how to get right information through comparisons among various media.
The first step of Project 1 is analyzing and comparing three different news sources. Nehal and I will look over MSNBC, WSJ and Yahoo News for the next couple of days. Today, I captured the overall structure and layout of each website.
The most interesting thing I found was that each website has a strong identity that reflects the providers’ original communication medium; MSNBC is a TV broadcaster, WSJ is one of the major economy newspaper and Yahoo is a search engine based web portal.
One thing that MSNBC differs from others is that they put more videos than texts, which might attract users who don’t prefer reading long texts. They use dark gray and blue color tone, having professional and trustworthy image. This color combination also has high contrast, making news more noticeable. They also use clear visual banners and bold texts, which makes it easy to see the whole information structure at first sight.
WSJ has a distinctive structure that is hart to be found online. They use the same layout of their newspaper, putting top stories left to right. The overall black & white tone and Times New Roman typeface also shows their strong identity of newspaper. The website has 4 columns, which might look busy, but by dividing them unevenly they could emphasize their main articles and important information effectively. One another difference is that they put economy news on top, which shows their brand identity.
Just like other major portal websites, Yahoo provides its news service as a subcategory of the portal. The whole news webpage is located inside the portal webpage, letting readers move to different services page easier. Unlike the first two media, Yahoo News doesn’t show strong visual identity. I guess this is because their CI colors are located at the edge.
The website looks much busier than other news sources, mainly because they put too many thumbnail images between texts. WSJ also put floating images between texts, but Yahoo News looks more distracted because they put related articles on the same section, while WSJ only focus on one story on each section.
I made a wireframe sketch on each website and compared the difference. While MSNBC put most of their visuals on left center, WSJ and Yahoo disperse thumbnails and banners on many sections.
On the next day, I read the contents of each website and tried to figure out their information structure and overall perspective on top topics.
All websites put the hottest news/topics on top left. The order of contents infer the key interest and perspective of each provider. MSNBC’s top news category, for example, they put ‘Barack Obama’ and ‘Hillary Clinton’ on the first two left, while putting ‘Donald Trump’ at the second end. On the other hand, Yahoo News and WSJ don’t seem to show their particular political leaning on their main page.
When it comes to headlines, MSNBC stimulate readers more than other media by using statistics favorable to the Democratic party or sensitive vocabularies like ‘racist’. They also use infographics for supporting their arguments, which is hard to find on Yahoo News and WSJ.
Among the given news sources, WSJ have the most neutral perspective on politics. Instead of using slanted statements towards certain party, they provide candidates’ opinions on each political topic/issue, leaving it up to readers’ judgement.
During the class we spent some time on finding denotations and connotations on each typeface. Denotation means the actual meaning contained in the text and connotation is an implying meaning coming from the impression. Even if there is no meaning on the texts, we can still feel the certain underlying messages from the typefaces. On the other hand, if we don’t use proper fonts, the delivered information might be distorted or received in the wrong way.
I made a pair with Vikas and wrote down looks and feels we received from each typeface. The first set was quite easy to analyze; each font has different connotations and identity. But the second set was really hard to tell the difference because each share similar characteristics. From this practice I found that thickness, stroke and spike might create the different implication on the meaning of texts.
After long weekend, my partner Nehal and I shared our findings and thoughts of given news sources. (see our key finding details at https://medium.com/communication-design-project-1/nehal-nurie-project-1-7c762516e03a#.4olywa4v8) Nehal gave me more information about each news providers and asked me to read the PewResearch article.
Today I got new background information: MSNBC is one of the most liberal medias among US news providers; WSJ belongs to NewsCorp, the large media group also owns Fox News. Apparently, NSNBC shows slanted view and I could see that without the PewResearch report. However, I didn’t know that WSJ is one of the conservative media, because they provide balanced perspective to readers. Because of this, we think that WSJ is considered to be the most trustful news media from both conservatives and liberals.
During the class we spent some time on sharing findings each other and sketching the mental model of each news provider.
We compared analysis results and found the new interesting things that we couldn’t catch during the last meeting.
- The overall impression on a website might be looked different by cultural background. For example, when I first saw WSJ website I thought it looks busy and distracted because I’m not used to the American newspaper layout. However, other people felt that it looks organized and effective.
- MSNBC don’t use texts that much, presumably to attract young readers who don’t prefer reading long texts.
- Provocative texts and visuals have a sense of urgency.
After that we made a rough sketch on the structure of each website. We thought it might be good idea to show the reading flow of the websites and compare the level of convincing and trust on each. It might take some time to brainstorm the idea.
We developed our mental models once again over the 3 hours. Stacy advised me to try more sketches on my first impression on each website. That tip helped me a LOT to visualize the overall image of our news providers.
It may looks silly, but these sketches gave me an idea about how I’ve perceived the websites so far. I could also find how I’ve read the each website, implying the importance of the order of stories/topics. It was easy to sketch the mental model of MSNBC and WSJ, but not for Yahoo. That’s because Yahoo is a news aggregator and curate the news by their secret algorithm.
Over the weekend, Nehal and I prepared for the presentation about the key findings and the mental models of given news providers. (see https://medium.com/communication-design-project-1/nehal-nurie-project-1-7c762516e03a#.cu1wfyd8a for more details) I wanted to elaborate my mental model sketches and developed them as below.
Through the wireframes and content curations of each website, I found that color tones, layouts, texts and display order affect greatly to my mental model. While layouts provide the overall frame of the mental model, color tones and texts give the certain characteristics. Display order affects the perceived ratio of topics; the more politics-related news are on top/left, the more likely we feel that the website deals more with politics.
On Tuesday each team made a short presentation on the mental model. Using the PPT slides has pros and cons; It might enable us to give more structured information to audience, but it was so hard for us to present interactive analysis results. Also, our team didn’t do well on making a sync between what we spoke and what we sketched. We felt that we need more practice for making the better alignment of information next time.
After the presentation, each team brainstormed once again about the final deliverable. Our goal is to help people to be better informed. Not only we have to think about the content but also we need a good idea about how to communicate with our target audience.
Nehal and I agreed with choosing our target people as young voters who have never voted before(probably freshmen and sophomore students). As the most important election is coming, it would be more meaningful for us to guide young students to make a right choice before voting.
During the weekend, Nehal and I brainstormed about how we nudge them to analyze news sources and be well-informed.
We decided to create a campaign with multiple communication channel. We will use the infographic poster as the first channel; we will create the Facebook group page and put the URL on our poster. We will share our findings from the last analysis results. We will encourage them to add comments and share the ideas and thoughts with each other.
Nehal got a great idea; she wants to compare students’ mindset before seeing our campaign and after seeing it. She wants to ask students of her TA class “How do you feel after getting tips of news analysis?” and records their reactions. I have a good feeling that we will make it well.
Today we briefly talked about how we communicate abstract concept into concrete visuals. It is difficult to visualize abstract notions because of their characteristic of complexity, unclearness and multiple meaning.
To convert them into concrete concepts, we might consider…
- Categorize the meanings by certain themes
- Explain steps of process
- Give specific examples/metaphors to describe the concept
- Create a story to explain the concept
Nehal and I got feedback about our last brainstorming result from Stacy. She asked us to think about our target audience once again and question ourselves if infographics really is a good medium to deliver the information. Considering young voters don’t spend too much time on reading long information, we realized that we should use a different medium that drag their attention.
Then, we came up with the idea of making a A/B test like game. Using the concept of the 7S (Stories, Sequence, Scope, Structure, Style, Slant, Sponsor), we might create a set of board game that can be played with friends. Our idea is to suggest quizzes related to the 7S, make them to choose between 2 selections and give them right answers behind them.
However, we were on the different page when it comes to creating the content of quiz. Nehal didn’t want to mention directly about news sources, but I wanted to deal with the real examples of each articles. In fact, we were stuck at this moment.
So, we decided to send a brief questionnaire to Nehal’s undergrad students and wait to see their response. We wanted to know 1) what is the most popular channel for young students to get information about the election? and 2) whether they like to share their opinions about the presidential election with their friends?
During the work session, we told Jiyoung about our concept so far. Jiyoung said that it is hard for her to understand the purpose of our campaign. I realized that it might be easier to limit the scope of our purpose according to our news analysis results. I convinced Nehal to set our goal as “How might young voters get right information about the candidates before election?”
We brainstormed about the quiz content once again by analysis point. However, it was so hard to come up with the idea especially on scope and structure, because even we were confused the definition of each. Stacy advised us to step away from the idea of 7S instead and focus on our own words. We looked over our presentation slides and went back to our last analysis result.
Meanwhile, Nehal got a response from one of her freshmen student. He said that he prefer short videos on his Facebook news feed or Snapchat News feed because he can catch them easily. That was quite easy to expect. However, what we didn’t expect was that he doesn’t want to talk about politics with his friends. Based on his response, we decided to give up the game idea and tried to think about a light, instant but funny form.
We went back to Square One, but this time we have much clearer direction. Today, Nehal showed me a 3-minute video clip of Save The Day campaign as reference. It has a great narrative and effectively appeal young voters to register for the election.
After long discussion, we chose a form of visual slides that contain short stories on each analysis point. We will then post them on CMU Facebook group page so lots of freshmen students share our campaign online.
To confirm the storyline, we wrote down the characteristics of Save The Day video and tried to apply them on our final deliverable. Our whole contents will have funny and friendly tones, repetitive words and indirect allegations.
During the weekend, Nehal and I brainstormed about the interesting topics that freshmen might be interested. We decided to parodize Game of Thrones as the game of election, make a set of 2D visual slides and post them on Facebook. We worked on the storyline to make it more resonating to the undergrads and also tried to add a little more detail to the explanations in the form of short poems.
Nehal had a chance to take feedbacks from the undergrads this morning. She spoke to them about the project and asked them go through the
script and give her feedbacks regarding the tone, their understanding, the
clarity of the subject, language etc. They loved the idea after looking it in conjuncture with the visuals. They felt the informative part in the form of short poems is helpful. They also would like to share it online.
During the class, we had a 5-minute pitch to explain our design concept to different teams. Overall, they liked our concepts, but many of them pointed out that we have to consider those who never have watched the TV show. We felt that it is really important to make good balance between parodying Game of Thrones and conveying the information.
We named our campaign as #KnowBetter and worked on creating the visual over the weekend. I used flat, cartoon like tone to get more attention from our target audience. I also mixed the representative image of Game of Thrones and the election candidates. We were happy when viewers commented that our content is hilarious.
Finally, I made a Facebook page for our Know Better campaign and posted them on it. Overall, I think Facebook was a great selection because it is one of the most effective channel to communicate with young audience and also it has a nice photo slide layout. When I used the photo slide on my Facebook Newsfeed, it didn’t look boring at all despite of its long content.