UX for news content: Designing news to be usable
We deal with huge amounts of information every day. Most of it comes in the form of text, and video content has increased exponentially in the last years. But in todayâ€™s logic, users want more than access information — they want to do something with it.
News content as it is serves its purpose to inform the audience. But, with the use of interactivity and new multimedia languages, we can really take them to a whole new level from news consumers to real news users. My proposal is to define content characteristics that will make news more usable and useful.
Drawing from the user experience honeycomb for design, my idea sets the main features for improving news users experience. We find many of them already working in conjunction with traditional digital content: we can share, comment, customize data results, and navigate non-linearly though the stories. But there is no conceptual approach in designing news products to face the demands of users dealing with different platforms and devices, some of them with huge potential for practical use, like the iPad.
Itâ€™s not about just informing people anymore, itâ€™s about creating a product that lets people do something with that information, creating richer and more immersive content, making it more valuable and with a longer lifespan.
The goal is to combine these features to create an integrated product, going beyond placing them along the content. Multimedia, interactive packages are a great example of integration of these items, but many tend to forget some that could make the information more useful and improve userâ€™s experience.
These are just the main ideas for this concept, so Iâ€™ll highlight the most important characteristics for each element. Iâ€™ll be writing a series of more in-depth posts about this in my blog.
At its most basic level, people can interact with text just by clicking on the links available, and access new information. Interaction can occur also with visual elements of the story by manipulating them to customize the display of information and the results.
Interaction is also important because our brain learns more by doing than by just observing.
The values of interaction can be listed as follows:
- Promotes a deeper engagement between user and content;
- Information can be customized;
- Navigation can be planned for a non-linear approach, since the user defines his own way through the story. Itâ€™s the same logic used in games where an established path can be navigated in many different ways and with different exploration levels. Timelines, interactive graphs and maps are a good example of this;
- Users take their own conclusions from the information made available, in a more superficial or indepth analysis;
- Interactive data can produce different results for different people to then customize it to their own needs;
- Interactive media can provide more information within the same area: Maps, pictures and videos can offer more information than when theyâ€™re not interactive â€“ the before and after of an event can be compared sliding two pictures one over the other instead of having them side by side.
The best thing about the digital environment is that it supports all of the known types of media languages and hosts some new ones. Visual information is key, dynamic content is appealing, and though thereâ€™s a linear logic to video and audio, we can break them down to chunks and choose the order we go through them.
- Different types of media affect the way we absorb information;
- Provides a more immersive experience;
- Content is richer, we see whatâ€™s happening, weâ€™re not told what happened. First person narratives gained huge presence in news stories, relieving journalists from being presential mediators in the narrative;
- It works as a complement or as a main feature in the news story;
- We can combine different types of media and make it interactive.
Social networks are the most far reaching channels to distribute information. Users express themselves not only by adding their own content, but mostly by sharing content they relate to, which builds up their conceptual online personas. Here we must think of the article as the basic unit of information online, and by the article I mean not only the text but general news content that can be accessed by a link and shared on the social networks.
- Users can add comments to the news product on their own domains, build upon or fragment the original content, and add more information;
- Information can travel faster, exponentially, the word used for widely shared content is â€œviralâ€;
- Distribution is no longer the sole responsibility of news creators, but users within their communities will do it for them;
- Independent curators will organize the information, tag it, put it side by side with similar content, providing structural context to it;
- The range of the news product becomes unlimited, crossing borders, age and social groups.
SEO is an ugly word (itâ€™s three of them actually) for many people, obviously associated to content pushers. But news creators must push their information out there into the realm of the user.
Paywalls eclipse content, but their goal is to have loyal users. But most users arenâ€™t that loyal.
Newsstands are always in the busiest streets because thatâ€™s where there are more people. Now theyâ€™re networked. They get the news they want, when they want, but they also get a lot of news they donâ€™t want. So when pushing our content we must pay attention to some parameters:
- Use SEO techniques, in titles, content tagging, in all of the elements of the product to make it more easy to find;
- Publish on social networks;
- If your content is visible, it may become more relevant, if itâ€™s relevant it may become more visible;
- Well organized archives are paramount in a medium in which information lives forever. This allows a longer lifespan for content, make it easily available for future reference, it can be used for self reference in future content, and cross referencing for external content and curation.
If the previous features are somewhat technology related, this goes out to the core of what journalism is, and why people need journalism. Credibility is an important factor to take into account when consuming news. Lack of credibility of established news brands has turned users to fictional news websites and shows, and independent and non-profit news organizations and in a world where everything is scrutinized in real time false assumptions can damage the brand value of journalists and news outlets.
This is the more philosophical part of this concept, but one that cannot be left aside.
To be credible we must:
- Develop quality, in content, method, presentation;
- Promote trust and engagement between the product and the users;
- Be transparent in methods, views and goals;
- Not demand loyalty, but be loyal to userâ€™s expectations;
- Create original content;
- Curate and direct users to reliable sources;
- Follow the basic rules of journalism. Technology has evolved, the principles remain the same.
Is there any good in chasing tourists stranded in an airport because of volcano ash and ask them the same questions over and over to get predictable results? Or is it better to show alternatives to air travel, with itinerary planners aggregating all the options available for the affected area? What is the impact of knowing that taxes will raise in 2.8% for families, compared to the possibility of calculating that raise taking into account the number of members of the family and their income, and find how much real money will I lose, instead of a vague percentage?
Information has to be useful. We want to know about the things that affect our lives, but now we have the tools to know how they really do, at an individual level. Information is more valuable if it can be used.
- We can solve problems with the information available. Interactivity is a great way to help users find the answers they need;
- Information should have a practical value;
- People are no longer passive recipients of information but active users of it;
- Mobile devices are becoming more of a tool than a gate. We can have practical objectives than just the passive intake of information. I donâ€™t just want to find about a good restaurant, I want to be able to book a table on the go.
At the core of this concept is the value of information. Value comes from the importance of the subject but also from the way itâ€™s presented. We are overwhelmed with information, so we want to have the most valuable for us of it all. And the better the value the more it will stand out from the roar.
By using any of these features presented here well, weâ€™re creating valuable content to the users, something they can relate to, work with and use. We must apply new standards for journalism products, and this is my humble effort to get the discussion rolling, but donâ€™t forget, these are not air tight concepts. Too many things are changing too fast, but a conceptual approach to news content production can improve production and work flow.
And above all, we must consider the online journalism product as multidimensional. Not just one, or coexisting media types, to begin in A and end in Z, but nonlinear, multimedia, fragmented, one end of a thread connecting to the other side of the web, and that helps users to have better experiences, improve knowledge, use information on their own behalf.
How do you think the online news product can be better designed? What is missing to create really effective online content? Share your thoughts, like everything this is a work in progress.
Alex Gamela is a freelance journalist and an active researcher of the future of media. He has experience in TV production, radio broadcasting and print, and has invested personally in the last few years in learning new skills for the journalism trade.
Currently he is expanding his knowledge taking the MA Online Journalism at the Birmingham City University, in the UK, under the direction of Paul Bradshaw.
Follow Alex on Twitter: @alexgamela
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Tags: Alex Gamela, credibility, interactivity, multimedia, SEO, usability, ux design