I read the news almost everyday. I visit the same handful of online publications on a regular basis. It’s a bad habit. And in my experience, my peers—working, post-college 20 somethings—often share the same habit. This behavior can limit one’s exposure to a spectrum of information and viewpoints, which would otherwise lead to developing more informed opinions. Thus, I set out to design a news app that encourages people to get their news from a variety of publications.
Why don’t people seek out new publications on their own? Because it takes a lot of time and effort. Even if an individual is moderately motivated, they could be reluctant to act because of the level of effort involved. In order for the app to induce this kind of behavioral change, it needs to be effortless.
In order to keep things simple, the app offers two articles per day on a single topic. The two articles in each pair would have opposing viewpoints. In this simple model, the screen where the user chooses their article is the foundation. Aside from being simple, I also felt the design should evoke conflict, since acknowledging opposing viewpoints is a theme here.
I began by determining the page focal points. The image below demonstrates a good focal point trick. The two intersection points of the dashed and dotted lines are the focal points. Using the focal point diagram, I explored different layouts through sketching.
Splitting the screen with a diagonal felt like the right move. It’s more effective at evoking conflict than a symmetrical split. Architecture firm Pei Cobb Freed employed a similar trick for lobby of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The long axis of the rectangular atrium does not split the room symmetrically. You can see in the images below how the staircase and truss cross the room diagonally.
My first high fidelity draft of the home screen is shown below. The result is a diagonally split screen, each side linking to a different article, with the publication icon displayed. The topic is presented in the middle. The user would tap either side to read that article.
With this app model, I anticipated that there would be a lot of burst usage. By providing some kind of feedback and rewards aspect to the app, I felt I could curb the burst usage at least a little. My initial idea was for the user to unlock publications by reading articles they disagreed with. In order to do so, the app would need to initially gauge the user’s political persuasion. Does it gauge by asking the user questions? Or does the user explicitly input their political stance?
Collecting information and gamification aspects—points, levels, unlockables—quickly became complicated. There would’ve needed to be additional screens to track points, levels, publications, preferences. I felt this solution did not address the problem in a succinct way. Remember, one of the main goals here is to keep the app simple. In addition, this solution did not solve the problem that users might avoid certain publications because of a preconceived opinion.
The latest design still shows two articles but only their titles initially. The user finds out who wrote the article only after they’ve read it. In the image below, the bottom article has been read, denoted by a faded background and visible publication icon. The reward for the user is finding out who wrote the article and potentially realizing that a certain publication doesn’t always lean the way they thought.
This challenge ended up being an exercise in designing for behavioral change. While we use models to predict behavior, field testing would be the best way to determine whether or not the app is simple enough to appeal to those with low to moderate motivation. Given more time and resources, the project would have benefitted from a coded prototype.