Final Bachelor Project — 2018
Nuntius

A Declining Interest in News

Reaching younger audiences with modern news media has proven to be a challenge for a long time, and is growing increasingly difficult. News engagement rates are dropping: just 40% of Dutch Millenials use news media daily [ 1 ]. An identified problem is the lack of relevance of stories: major news outlets cater to big audiences by covering a broad range of topics. However, this selection is bound to include items that are not interesting to all.

The automatic personalization of news through recommendation systems is shown to increase visitor engagement and retention. Additionally, the use of subtle notifications can help foster news consumption rituals that lead to higher engagement rates. These principles have inspired the design of Nuntius: a tangible aggregator- and curator of news that uses peripheral notifications to subtly inform its users of the availability of news.

The Right News at the Right Time

In order to reduce the entrance barrier to engaging with news, Nuntius collects- and curates a playlist of narrated news items. A simple press of a button will help keep you informed. This was made possible by an advanced machine learning algorithm, custom designed for this project. The system learns from your use and environment to recommend relevant stories.

Additionally, the system plays an active role in reminding you of the availability of news. Luminescent elements conceiled behind the acoustic fabric display patterns designed to provide subtle awareness.

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Creating Peripheral Awareness

Nuntius uses interaction design techniques inspired by Bakker's Peripheral Interactions [ 2 ] to create awareness on the availability of news. The notification system includes ambient patterns in lighting and soundscapes that reflect the news.

The system assesses the importance of collected news, and uses this to determine how present the device should be. Luminescent elements include the smooth fading tactile buttons, and the multicoloured LED ring located at the front of the device.

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Qualitative User Evaluation

In order to investigate the impact and significance of a centralized station for news, a small qualitative study was conducted with three participants. The aim of this study was tri-fold. Firstly, it attempts to analyse expected response by members of the target audience. Secondly, it aims to evaluate if the peripheral interaction design elements add value. Finally, the qualitative results are used to gain better intuition for designing news recommender systems.

The study was structured around two interviews: one sensitizing-, one reflective. Participants were given access to Nuntius for five consecutive days. At the end, all participants were interviewed to evaluate the presence that Nuntius had taken in their homes, as well as the suitibility of recommendations made. The data was analysed using thematic analysis: quotes from the interviews were clustered to uncover patterns.

Conclusion

In every step of the process, I focused on creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as efficiently as possible, then iterating on what I had learnt. Instead of a technology-oriented approach based on assumptions, I let my work be guided by insights derived from academic research, user evaluation studies and co-creation sessions. This strategy paid off: progress came along naturally and I had no problems meeting the squad deadlines.

In my design process I went through a number of iterations, each version more complete than the former, all while staying true to the MVP. At the end of each iteration I implemented user evaluation techniques learned in previously completed courses. One of the main goals I set for myself was to advance my physical technical skills. I am very content with the final prototype: I was able to realize a stable, stand-alone system that is data-enabled and can be controlled over the internet.

Looking back at the final bachelor project, I am most satisfied by the ‘roundness’ of my design process. Pivoting from my initial concept was difficult, but I am very glad I did. Focusing on a clear MVP and employing an Agile method made my process very pragmatic and user-centered, which I thought it worked really well. Although I feel there is room for improvement, I feel I have been able to find a design process that works well for me. I hope to continue refining my design process, competencies and attitude during my Master’s degree.

References

  1. Wennekers, A. and de Haan, J. (2017). "Nederlanders en nieuws — Gebruik van nieuwsmedia via oude en nieuwe kanalen". Retrieved from Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau
  2. Bakker, S., & Niemantsverdriet, K. (2016). The interaction-attention continuum: Considering various levels of human attention in interaction design. International Journal of Design, 10(2), 1-14. Retrieved from IJDesign