NPR Plus

Case study in designing for fake news.

NPR Plus


A mobile fact checking proposal, targeted towards all ages, especially young adults, that looks at the mitigation of fake news in the arrival of the post-truth era


Experience Design | Dec 2016

NPR Plus

Proposed Client: National Public Radio (NPR)
Description: Senior Academic Project
Team: Charmaine Wu, Sonia Yau, Kosuke Futsukaichi, Michael Lo
Duration: 4 weeks

Role: UX, User Research, Content Strategy, Visual Design

View Slide Deck |  View Process (in detail)


(3 min. watch)



A decline in younger audiences and
the spread of fake news

NPR's lack of commitment towards digital innovation in developing their digital offerings has caused them to lag behind their competitors in attracting younger audiences.

Meanwhile, the spread of fake news seen during the 2016 Presidential Election poses as a journalistic sector-wide problem where credibility is disregarded and hysterics are favoured.


My role

During the 4-week development of NPR Plus, I worked behind the scenes and focused on providing and applying various key insights through research. The application of these insights, whether it was user- or industry-based, helped guide and shape the team’s focus, design decisions, and trade offs. 


Framing and reframing


After identifying NPR's business and social problem, I rapidly explored possible openings through sketches in order to visualise and communicate my ideas to my team.

We came to the conclusion of seeing value behind NPR explicitly addressing the prevalent role of fake news and its harrowing effects on a large population over time.

Drawing on insights from research into the journalistic sector and the psychology behind the act of sharing on social media, we shifted our focus towards reducing cognitive overhead in traditional news platforms in order to mitigate the spread of fake news. 


NPR could innovate their digital offerings and spearhead the movement of fact-checking for all age groups  especially young adults. 


Case study


To address the spread of fake news, we referenced an article by the New York Times, and understood that the most effective point of intervention to potentially mitigate the spread of fake news is right after the initial engagement by readers and people posting on social media.



To help narrow down our focus, we created personas and user scenarios in order to identify our target audiences' journey and friction points with discovering news, the consumption, and sharing.

My insights behind the creation of our personas helped the team focus on our target audiences. I advocated for detailed backstories ― such as one's age, ethnicity, political stance, and education ― in order to understand the mindset of a certain audience's actions and friction points which highlighted potential opportunities to design for. 

This research along with my contributions behind the detailed creation of our users became our framework for developing the prototype.


Kelly / Mid-20's / African-American / Democrat / College Student

Sam / Mid-50's / Caucasian / Republican / Self-Employed


Unifying touchpoints

By unifying NPR’s already existing digital offerings ― such as NPR News and NPR One ― NPR can bring more attention and traffic to existing platforms that provide value.

Reduce in cognitive overhead by streamlining the functions throughout the products, in order to create a more comprehensive experience that doesn't require the user to download separate applications.


Psychology behind chunking

The aim was to reduce as much cognitive overhead as possible and we saw opportunity in designing the presentation of the questionable claims found on NPR Plus' fact check section.

We redesigned the presentation of traditional news articles by utilising card style architecture as it provides easy-to-read digestible amounts of content for readers at first glance. 

The aim was to aggregate the cluster of traditional news articles into moments of intrigue and engagement. By stripping to the basics ― a headline and a photo ― quick content is easily communicated and scannable for the readers.


Navigating with annotations

Using annotations provides an easier way for readers to navigate to the key points within the article. Highlighted claims from a fake news article helps reduce cognitive overhead for readers by not having to read through a lengthy article. 


Streamlining with curation

Through recommending podcasts we can give users the opportunity to explore relevant content, and gain a more in-depth understanding of related topics. 


Measurement of success


User Value

  • In-depth factual understanding of politics
  • Accurate cultural knowledge
  • Opportunity to be truth-bearers in social circles

Business Value

  • Increase in digital traffic
  • Increase in younger audience
  • Mitigate the threat to the journalistic sector
  • Opportunity to become the premiere fact-checking solution


NPR's feasibility, viability, and desirability in creating NPR Plus.



Accept opposing views, stick to the work

It was an important issue for me to remain unbiased while tackling the issue of facts and credibility in the realm of politics.

This was an exercise in challenging my unconscious biases and acknowledging other people's perception of truths - not only my own. 

There were early iterations and intentions on labelling each questionable claim on the fact checking feed as "false," "true," or "pending investigation." However, with the rate of questionable claims that the candidates were providing during the Presidential Debates, it was evident that the entire feed may have been mostly "false" or "true" towards either party, creating ill-perceived notions for readers at first glance.  

Despite the fact that I may feel one way or another politically, I had to stick to the work.

I had to create a space for questionable claims to live without being demonised on first glance. I had to figure out an alternative towards separating the truth from the fabricated without showing bias  ― in terms of NPR, a news organisation, this was crucial. Ultimately, we scrapped the labelling idea in the final prototype.

Although this was a personal hurdle for me to overcome, it was an important lesson in becoming an ethical designer by accepting opposing views and simply sticking to the work at hand. 


Ethical Design: The importance of truth

This 4-week case study was my firsthand experience in designing for such complex ideas during such a complex time. I've come to understand that truth, facts, and credibility is more important now than it's ever been.

I'm still learning that my job as a young designer, and as a human, is to be conscious of one another, empathetic, and self-reflective. A big question I had during this project was: how can we design for truth-bearing in a post-truth era for the disenfranchised? 

Everyone has their own version of truths from their experiences and objectives which made designing for truth a complex situation. However, I've learned that designing for this situation was for all the right reasons.

My role as a young designer is to be bridge-building, not damning or malicious, with other people’s truths, beliefs, or imperatives. 

I believe that as access to information grows, my focus is to ensure that my responsibility with information and the truth is never tarnished.