Lowdown is a multimodal connected experience designed to mitigate the spread of misinformation on social media.
A thesis project by Tregg Frank CU Denver Digital Design May, 2018
“How might the application of user experience design processes be leveraged in mitigating social media users’ consumption of misinformation?”
In order to have well informed Americans my product will solve social media users’ problem of consuming false and misleading news stories by giving them a platform for analyzing their news intake and output as well as news consumption bias.
I will know if this product is successful when users make proactive measures to reduce their false news intake.
The idea behind a user story is to write a simple sentence that states a function the user can experience inside the application. They sometimes follow slightly different formulas, but the most standard is "as a user. I can..." followed by an intent or action the user is able to perform in the system.
Doing this allows you to get on the same page as a team. In my case, I prefer starting with user stories and then designing out the user flow/task flow as it gives me a solid starting point.
Jumping into designing an app without these pieces to fall back on feels a lot like writing a book without an outline.
“As a news consumer, I can receive notifications informing me of alternate news sources to stories I share.”
“As a news consumer, I can add news stories to my reading list.”
“As a news consumer, I can share stories through a filter to ensure they are valid.”
“As a news consumer, I can see my news consumption bias over time.”
Learn more about this
MEETING USERS WHERE THEY ARE
The only way a product like this can be successful is if it meets the users where they are. News media is continually being disrupted and mobilized. To be useful, this platform has to be where the users are.
In 2018 a lot of people get their news from social media. Facebook and Twitter are aware of this and have launched products to facilitate those interactions. (Twitter Moments, Facebook Trending) Additionally, the primary point of misinformation proliferation is through these services.
Therefore, this product necessitated both a Facebook and Twitter integration. However, a large portion of users also get their news from other sources such as Reddit, general web browsing, and specific news organization’s mobile apps. In order to assist users in assessing the quality of the content they are consuming, this product has to grow beyond simple account linking.
My solution to this was the ability to filter any article or news source proactively through the Lowdown platform.
This can be done much like sharing a link to Facebook or Twitter in iOS. In the action pane that comes from the bottom, you are able to set your app to have an “action” icon.
An example of an application that does this in a similar fashion is Pocket (getpocket.com) which allows users to tag and store interesting links in their profile.The user can open the sharing window, tap Lowdown and instantly identify whether the story is trustworthy or not. If it’s not, they will receive recommended articles to read. If it is safe, they will be given the option to share it.
Adding this layer on top provides a proactive functionality to the application while also remaining a reactive safety net in the instance that the user shares a disputed article directly to their social media profiles.
iPhone X, Amazon Alexa, Apple Watch
WHY DESIGN FOR MULTIMODALITY?
A modality is a mode of interacting with an interface. A multimodal experience is one that involves several different modalities, or means of interaction.
For instance, pushing a video from your phone to your Smart TV is a multimodal experience. The final iteration of the project included an Alexa Skill, an iOS mobile app, and an Apple Watch companion app.
Why is multimodality the best solution for this problem? To continue to serve the goal of meeting users where they are, I considered where users are getting their news beyond the mobile phone. People don’t just use their phone.
The device ecosystems in American’s homes is growing daily, it seems. With that comes consumption of news media, and with that comes an opportunity to help mitigate the spread of misinformation.
Think of a marketing campaign that includes advertisements on Facebook, Podcast sponsor beds, and a billboard or two. If a viewer converts to be a customer, how do you measure where the change happened?
Facebook will provide you with metrics, but maybe it was that Podcast spot that really sold them.
Designing for a multimodal connected experience allows me the opportunity to provide users with repeat exposure to quality content, rather than requiring them to meet me where I am.
Interaction and user flows
Multimodal Interaction Flow
Mobile App Flow
Watch App Flow
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Alexa, open Lowdown.
Let's get you the lowdown.
You can say commands such as: "what are my news stats", "read me my bookmarks", or you can ask for help.
What are my stats?
It looks like you have been reading high-quality news lately.
78% of your news has had a left-leaning bias.
What else can I do for you?
Happy to help! You can ask for your news consumption stats, or you can have me read your bookmarks to you. This skill requires a Lowdown account. What can I do for you?
What are my stats?
The first bookmark is titled: "There is not an alien invasion in Oregon" via the New York Times. Do you want to listen to this article or hear about the next one?
. . .
Considering skeptics and careful users
The absolute most common question I’ve gotten from my mentors, users, and peers alike has been this:
“How do I know your platform is trustworthy?” When designing the various systems inside Lowdown, I found it very beneficial to consider the opposite perspective. "Who might disagree with what I'm designing?"
Doing this lead me to a few unique design decisions that are worth highlighting:
— The addition of Frequently Asked Questions that provide details into how articles are rated and what the intent is behind the application itself
— The ability to disagree with an analysis result, and submit a reason
— Providing explanations for why we are asking them to connect their social media accounts
— NOT telling the user that an article is outright fake; instead providing them the tools to investigate on their own
I considered using the behavioral economic principals of social proof, however, I opted out of this because it seems to undermine the intention of Lowdown in the first place.
Social proof is essentially showing that "other people do this and it's cool for you to do it too". In this instance, it would have manifested itself as something like "Your friend's liked this article" or something similar.
Instead, I found it better to get in the user’s line of sight with notifications and friendly nudges in the right direction, rather than smashing their perceptions aggressively.
Doing so would only result in belief persistence and turn away any careful or skeptical users. The likes of which may be the most important demographic to reach in the first place.
The topic I elected to pursue is at the very least a hot button issue and at most one of the biggest pursuits in the tech industry currently.
Before even beginning the semester, countless startups and monolithic tech companies announced and/or launched their products that aimed to solve this problem.
During the course of the semester, Google announced they were launching a new platform to combat this problem.
I was working on a problem that
was not only actively developing
and shifting, but one that was
being attacked by the smartest
minds in the tech world.So, with that comes a dose of impostor syndrome, a dose of fear, and a lot of product validation. There was an obvious need for this in the market. Additionally, the popularity of this problem provided
numerous case studies and options for competitive analysis. If my individual solution to the problem mirrored any of those that were being announced I’d know I hadn’t gone deep enough.
This pushed me to pursue a unique solution to a manageable chunk of the problem.
When it came to the actual production of the project itself, the toughest part was by far navigating the controversial nature of the topic.
I found myself bouncing countless iterations of the interfaces off of my friends and family to vet for any possible miscommunication.
Simple, seemingly benign decisions such as using red to symbolize errors and alerts as well as the political right has the potential to create a huge misunderstanding.
I had to be very purposeful with my use of color. I was careful to make sure nothing was coming across in blatant favor of one
side of the political spectrum or the other. It was just as important to ensure that my word choices weren’t leading to the same problems. I made sure my labels were as clear as possible, and to avoid blatantly politicized terms.
At the end of the day, I created something that I’m not only proud of, but that performs well in user testing, that has inspired passionate discussion, and that could potentially help solve the problem I set out to tackle.
ABOUt The designer
Hi, I'm Tregg. I'm a Product/Interaction designer focused on multimodal connected experiences and emerging technologies.