Design Research

Inspiration and Ideation

Our Design Research projects often start from a conversation with an organization who becomes our partner for the class. We identify a challenge they face and put a team of students on the task of identifying the key stakeholders around the challenge, understanding their needs, and prototyping prospective solutions. If you’d like to start a conversation, drop us a line.

Projects

Audience Engagement and Onboarding with Hearken

Students are working closely with the team at Hearken, and are gaining valuable insights into how important audience engagement is to our media landscape.

Auditing the News Evaluating News Quality on Smart Speakers

Alexa, Siri, Google Home, Cortana—smart speakers and agents are now used by about 20% of US homes. People use them to ask about weather, set timers, play games, get information, or listen to the news. But are these devices delivering high-quality news and information or could they be misinforming and sharing “junk” news? This project aims to find out. By developing an audit method that defines what queries to audit and systematically collects data on the results over time for those queries from several different smart speakers, the project will allow for an assessment and comparison of news quality from these different devices.

Civic Engagement with City Bureau

As local news organizations shrink, many civic advocates fear that no one will be monitoring the day-to-day processes that make city governments run. As part of their innovative approach to closing news gaps and promoting civic engagement, Chicago’s City Bureau has developed their “Documenters” program to train citizens to observe and record public meetings. As they develop this team of citizen journalists, they are now considering the complementary question: what is the most effective way to make the work they produce available and useful to Chicagoans?

For this project, the Northwestern student team will conduct design research and prototyping to explore solutions. Students will be expected to be in close contact with City Bureau’s team, with current documenters, and with engaged citizens who want to stay informed about what’s happening at the heart of these civic processes. Students should be prepared to go out into Chicago to meet with these people face to face for interviews, observations, and prototype testing.

Crowdsourcing for Journalism

Many important news stories are buried amidst huge numbers of documents. And sometimes, those documents are hard for news organizations to process, either because of the sheer number, or the formats in which the documents are published.

Historical Census Data

Census Reporter is a tool that helps journalists find and understand data from the US Census American Community Survey (ACS), making that data much more easily accessible and digestible. However, it only presents data from the most recent ACS releases.

Open Data Reporter

“Open data" might be a buzzword, but there are still significant obstacles to taking advantage of valuable datasets. They can be hard to find, hard to clean, and hard to manage. Human-centered design and a little coding energy can make it substantially easier for people to find stories and explore data. This team will approach a high-value public data set and aim to make the data more usable.

Podcast Discoverability

The podcasting landscape is overcrowded, with larger voices from legacy broadcast media sometimes drowning out new entrants. Browsing for new-to-you, quality podcasts is hard, with shows scattered across distribution platforms. This team will explore how we might provide users a better path to discovering new podcasts.

ProPublica Illinois

Students will design, develop, prototype and test one tool for community engagement, with a likely focus on the listening and information gathering stage.

Sidebar: Context without Clutter

Publishing a story requires a constant balancing act: you have to get to your point, but you don’t always know whether your audience is fully up-to-speed on the content. Or maybe in your research you found some really fascinating information, but you have to admit it’s kind of a distraction from your main point. The web was developed on the promise of linking between documents, but too often a simple link fails -- it doesn’t give the reader much sense of what sort of information is at the end of the link, and it runs the risk of sending your audience off down a rabbit hole, never to return to your work.

Smarter News

How might we better understand how to reach our audience, delivering the right news at the right moment, or for the right mood, or for the right amount of time?

Writing and Designing for Chatbots

Students will examine conversational user interfaces—that’s to say, using chat as a medium to interact with a bot.

Faculty and Staff Leads

Joe Germuska

Chief Nerd

Joe runs Knight Lab’s technology, professional staff and student fellows. Before joining us, Joe was on the Chicago Tribune News Apps team. Also, he hosts a weekly radio show on WNUR-FM – Conference of the Birds.

Zach Wise

Associate Professor

Emmy winning interactive producer & Associate Professor @NorthwesternU, @KnightLab. Formerly of The New York Times. Creator of TimelineJS & StoryMapJS