How might we broaden political discourse and understanding in people age 25-35 in the UK? – Design project from the Design Kit course

This is a writeup of the design project I carried out with Tamsyn Hyatt as part of Ideo and +Acumen’s Design Kit: The Course for Human-Centered Design. Check out the prototype we produced.

Inspiration

Interviews

  • We spoke to people with a range of political views, and carried out participant observation of their news-consumption activity.
  • We learnt from experts: Framing and messaging from a third sector expert; Rules of social media and political discourse from a digital communications director.
  • Key quotes

    “I don’t need stirring up. I want information and to make rational decisions. It doesn’t need to be heated.”

    “It sometimes worries me that I only read news from a source that shares my views. Yet clearly there’s a whole other perspective, because the majority of people voted for Brexit. I don’t understand that, and I never will if I only ever consume news written by people like me. It would be helpful to see other perspectives, even if I don’t agree with them.”

    “If I can understand what their argument is, I’m better placed to counter it. But that would need to be from a reliable source, even if I don’t agree with it.”

    “Reading contrasting opinion pieces is helpful in forming ideas, and in developing new ways of thinking.”

Ideation

Key themes

  • Desire for reasoned argument from both sides
  • Time and efficiency
  • Payment and paywalls
Insight Design Question
People are willing to consider alternative viewpoints but have limited time to do so. They’re struggling with business as usual, let alone anything new. How might we deliver diverse views that are quick to consume, but not sensational or click bait?
Users are concerned that they don’t know what a credible mainstream ‘opposing’ source looks like. How might we find the best content to represent diverse views?
People may not accept views wildly different to their own as untenable, and so not engage with them. How might we find content which will be acceptable/viable to people of different viewpoints?
People generally have a notion of reliability that transcends the political spectrum. i.e. they concede that publications that they may not agree with ideologically are capable of reporting something useful, despite ideological differences. How might we stretch and push people enough to challenge them but not repel them?
Most people didn’t pay for news. How might we make a product that is either zero direct cost to the consumer, or which is seen as sufficiently valuable to warrant purchase?

Ideas from Brainstorming

  1. A twitter account – or accounts – sharing ideologically diverse content. Users can subscribe to high-quality content outside of their ideological viewpoint.
  2. A news site where diverse content is submitted by users, grouped by theme and ranked for quality. This means that the most high-quality articles to represent a given ideological position on a given topic bubble to the top.

Storyboard overview

The person
Name: Brian Simmonds
Age: 29
Profession: Administrator for a small healthcare company

Step What is happening? What is the most important question to answer? How might we answer it?
Reads the day’s news following his normal routine Brian rushes to work. He squeezes on to the train and checks his regular news sites on his phone. [already explored in Inspiration stage] [already explored in Inspiration stage]
Becomes aware of the tool He receives a message from his friend suggesting that he check out a new news tool What channel of communication is likely to encourage someone to look at a new news source? Who would the message need to come from? Test with real content in people’s facebook feeds, versus whatsapp recommendations and personalised emails
Looks at the day’s news on the new tool Brian reviews the content on the news site and is prompted to read content from different ideological viewpoints to his own. They are high quality, so he finds them challenging but interesting and informative. Will people actually choose to read an article that they disagrees with ideologically? Build a basic wireframe prototype and carry out participant observation user testing
Rates an article that he read Brian gives a thumbs up or a thumbs down to each article he read, helping other users see which ones are best, from each ideological point of view. Do perceptions of quality actually cross ideological boundaries as our research suggested they could? Will people positively rate an article that they ideologically disagree with? Build a basic wireframe prototype and carry out participant observation user testing
Shares an article that he enjoyed in his own reading Brian notices that one good article he has read today isn’t listed. So he submits this article to the site Will he take the time to share content if? (Particularly as there isn’t currently any social reward to him for doing so) Trial submit form on test service. This could be achieved using a Google Doc. This would then be manually added to the site, if the article passed a basic quality check
Shares the tool with others Brian finds the tool useful so he shares it with others in his network. Will the service be able to spread to others without paid advertising? Test on a functional prototype, and invite users to share. Build in basic social sharing features to prompt and facilitate this. E.g. facebook and twitter.

Prototyping

What did you prototype? What question(s) were you trying to answer?

We ​tested a clickable digital prototype​ made using the Balsamiq mockup tool.

The most important question to research was:

  • “Will people actually choose to read an article of an ideological perspective that they disagree with?”

The most important secondary questions were:

  • Will people understand our way of representing ideologically diverse content? What interface design approaches might be best?
  • Do perceptions of quality actually cross ideological boundaries as our research suggested they could? In practical terms, will people positively rate an article that they ideologically disagree with?

What did you learn from testing your prototype?

  • People looked at ideologically diverse content But this may have been ‘under duress’ as they knew they were being observed. To have confidence in this result, we would need to test in a more anonymous fashion, and in a more real-life context.
  • Users were unclear what the ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ meant. Does a thumbs up signify endorsement, or liking, or was it a dispassionate quality measure saying that an article makes valid points and makes you think, even you don’t actually agree with it?
  • Some users found the left-right split a bit binary. Could this be improved, to better show nuances of different positions? Is it actually useful to divide content up into different ideological sections of the page?

What might you consider for future iterations?

  • Change the ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ to something more emotionally neutral. It will need to signify that this piece is well-constructed and reasoned, but must not imply liking.
  • Explore whether community submissions are the best model for discovering new content.
  • Explore pulling in content automatically from high-quality sources with different editorial perspectives.
  • Explore visual and layout approaches to presenting diverse content relating to a given topic that will scale well to mobile devices. (The approach tested was desktop only, as it required more horizontal space than is available in a smartphone or tablet)
  • Explore how to categorize content beyond a left-right binary. Consider in relation to the above point about visual design and layout.
  • Allow people to add tweets, and embed these directly on the page.