My Digital Interaction Design honours project, Almanac, is a news platform synthesised from human-centred research conducted into the role technology plays in political debate

When —

  • September 2014 - May 2015

Contributors —

  • Stephen Macvean, Interaction Designer

Overview

Almanac is an immersive news platform that strives to make people more informed on major news topics. As an entirely user-generated news source, it enables people to submit and rate news articles based on how important they feel they are to the wider topic.

Almanac is designed to easily allow people to follow and review the featured news topics from their inception to present day and encourages contribution to the evolution of how the topic is remembered as it progresses into the future. Almanac represents all sides of the topic and promotes open mindedness as a way of informing sound debate.

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The Challenge

I began the project by conducting human-centred research into the atmosphere in post-independence referendum Scotland. This involved interviewing local stakeholders as well as local experts with experience researching into this area.

The ‘hear’ phase of my project culminated in collaborating with a PhD Researcher, graphic designer to produce a participatory design workshop on the theme of political engagement.

After analysing and affinity mapping the workshop’s results, it was clear that it had revealed a lot of great insights that could be designed for. Namely, these were:

  • From observing the participants, it was clear how entrenched many of them were in their opinions. So how could this be challenged through design?
  • To address the narrow range of news sources that many of the participants use for informing and forming their opinions, how could this be widened through design?

These two insights, plus designing to increase awareness and designing around specific social issues, were all used to ideate concepts around.

Almanac was the concept that I felt would best challenge and question the behaviours of people and their use of news sources for forming opinions.

The Approach

With the concept determined, the next major step of the design process was the decision to take a mobile-first design approach. Choosing one platform allowed me to truly focus on crafting and maximising the experience for the users.

From there, I developed user personas based on the workshop’s participants, storyboarded user scenarios and applied both of them to design an information architecture that would meet the requirements of the users and encourage user contribution.

Almanac’s design fundamentally underwent an iterative design process both in terms of its structure and user interface. Potential end-users of Almanac were kept involved at key stages to ensure that each iteration of the prototype would meet their needs. I conducted both informal user testing sessions and more formal think aloud protocol sessions to gather feedback to enable me to make informed decisions on Almanac’s design.

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The Outcome

Using HTML, CSS and JavaScript, I was able to turn the static user interface designs produced in Sketch into a functional interface that subtly responds to the user’s interactions. I went on to develop Almanac’s dynamic functionality through taking the time to upskill and learn PHP and MySQL, meaning that for all intent and purposes it is a native application in terms of the user’s experience.

The outcome of this approach is a high-fidelity experience prototype, developed to a level of fidelity that allows for rich feedback from users. Although not at a level where the product is ready to launch, Almanac achieves the intended goals of the project. Users are able to review the context behind articles, view a balanced overview of the wider news topic, as well as submit and rate articles on Almanac.

The primary aim of Almanac was to disrupt and make people question and think more about the way in which they typically form opinions through news consumption. By the creation of a high-fidelity experience prototype, Almanac challenges the way in which people consume their news, how they use it for forming or consolidating opinions and by presenting them with opposing views will hopefully encourage them to reflect more about these behaviours.

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