A team of Master’s Students from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design were recently highlighted by Medium when their article, "How Might We Help People Become Better-informed Citizens?," was listed as a featured story on the website. The article documents the development of “Project Troika,” a framework of news aggregators. “Team Troika” consists of four current Master of Design students Jisoo Shon (MDes '21), Michelle Chou (MPS '20), Ranu Karanpuria (MDes '21), Sanika Sahasrabuddahe (MDes '21). Their article was featured in the Digital Life, Visual Design, Media, Politics, Design, and UX sections on Medium and was recommended to readers across the site’s homepage, app, topic pages, and emails.
Sanika Sahasrabuddahe, Michelle Chou, Ranu Karanpuria & Jisoo Shon
Rather than going with the convention of “News-on-the-go,” where news is delivered quickly on a person’s device as a snapshot, Troika is created for a desktop to be read in a setting that allows relaxed reflection rather than quick consumption.
“Our key goal was to show readers multiple perspectives and take away the bias of the source and seeing perspectives that are brought out by the language and framing of headlines and breaking news”, said the team.
The project started in Communication Design studio taught by Associate Professor Stacie Rohrbach and Assistant Teaching Professor Brett Yasko. The prompt required the class to bring together news in a way that was easily accessible across all genres and ideologies, leading to a well-informed public.
The team focused on the fact we live in an age where blurring facts and selling fiction as credible information has become acceptable.
“This basic conflict had to be resolved to ensure that all kinds of news, regardless of political background and genre had to have an equal opportunity to be presented to a reader”.
Troika, as a news aggregator, had to be credible, diverse and unbiased while delivering news in a manner that would keep people hooked to the news. The system focuses on presenting multiple perspectives in the news, which then triggers curiosity and comparison, and then potentially opens up conversations among people.
Through synthesizing research insights, Team Troika came up with a five-level model of citizen awareness, which also serves as a set of criteria for news outlets to enable their readers:
- Being aware of crucial news stories
- Distinguishing facts from opinions
- Acknowledging multiple perspectives
- Forming own opinions and be open to others
- Creating positive impacts by ensuring others are well-informed
“After examining the news outlets, we found that most of them started to fail on the 3rd level,” added Michelle Chou. “Therefore, they decided to tackle the issue more specifically by helping people acknowledge multiple perspectives.”
Team Troika also tried to make the system more approachable by arranging topics and organizing structures. From the news sources they analyzed, they found the chaotic nature of how web pages are designed with an overload of visual elements.
“One of the news sources was an aggregator and, though famous for showing only the conservative perspective, was successful in structuring news for short attention spans and reducing visual load. Hence, we went down that road.” said the team.
Team Troika believes this project has a high potential for development.
“Since the events on the news venues change over time, this Troika works as an accumulated news map that will identify the overall flow of issues as well as the instant pattern of news.”
The team are also considering other options of showing information and improving the reliability of the content, such as categorizing topics or adding search functions, which can help users navigate the site autonomously.
Team Troika all agreed that their instructors, the combination of seminars and studios in the program, and a cohort of talented designers from diverse backgrounds, made it a great place to develop design projects like Troika.
“Our design studios, due to their integrative nature, allow us to have a uniquely large perspective on every problem that we attempt to solve,” said Ranu Karanpuria. “In this case, the big picture was absolutely crucial to be assembled as part of our research.”
“The fact that we had a focused goal in a design studio setting helped to develop a deeper understanding of a design question and then be able to make sense of it as communication designers.” added Sanika Sahasrabuddahe.