MozFest 2015: From climate change to digital design, you may need to change your language

Ask me what my biggest take-away was from hours of logging tape for NPR’s ongoing series on the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris, and I will say, “If you want to ensure that your audiences are educated, empathetic and responsive, responsible you'll have to speak their language."

In the past few weeks, I’ve listened to (and rewound, slowed down, and re-listened to) some of the world’s leading scientists describe what went right and went wrong since the establishment of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Most if not all at some point mentioned that they and their colleagues incorrectly assumed that, when presented with the stark facts, the people would act to reduce their carbon emissions.

They were wrong. The scientists, to make change, needed to have communicated more effectively to a non-scientific audience. In short, they failed to speak to their audience effectively.

That lesson was reiterated over lunch with some journalism and policy folks at my first MozFest. We were talking about the successes and failures we’ve had in persuading those not in our field to adapt a certain practice to better the world through the Internet or through data. We concluded that when communicating about the importance of good technology practices, data and design to those who are not fellow journalists or journo-techies, we cannot simply say (to editors, clients, coworkers and more), “This site needs to be responsive. Everyone is using a smartphone.”

Instead, we must present the facts by connecting with the values of whomever we are speaking to. For example, “an optimized mobile presentation of the site will keep visitors on the page and increase traffic,” or “adapting x new practice fits into our mission of y.”

During my session, “No Good Number Goes Unpunished,” we discussed the importance of clarity when framing a dataset to our audience. Is it really enough to publish the margin of error in small print at the bottom of a chart, without explaining from where the error may have come, or what “margin of error” even means? The answer depends on your audience. Efficient and reliable reporting is important, but remember that journalists do not and should not write for journalists. And designers and technologists shouldn’t assume that the language they employ works as well with those outside the community as those inside.

About the author

Anne Li

Undergraduate Fellow

Anne is something between an audio reporter and a numbers snoop. Her spirit emoji is a frog sipping tea.

Tagged

Latest Posts

  • With the 25th CAR Conference upon us, let’s recall the first oneWhen the Web was young, data journalism pioneers gathered in Raleigh

    For a few days in October 1993, if you were interested in journalism and technology, Raleigh, North Carolina was the place you had to be. The first Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference offered by Investigative Reporters & Editors brought more than 400 journalists to Raleigh for 3½ days of panels, demos and hands-on lessons in how to use computers to find stories in data. That seminal event will be commemorated this week at the 25th CAR Conference, which...

    Continue Reading

  • Prototyping Augmented Reality

    Something that really frustrates me is that, while I’m excited about the potential AR has for storytelling, I don’t feel like I have really great AR experiences that I can point people to. We know that AR is great for taking a selfie with a Pikachu and it’s pretty good at measuring spaces (as long as your room is really well lit and your phone is fully charged) but beyond that, we’re really still figuring...

    Continue Reading

  • Capturing the Soundfield: Recording Ambisonics for VR

    When building experiences in virtual reality we’re confronted with the challenge of mimicking how sounds hit us in the real world from all directions. One useful tool for us to attempt this mimicry is called a soundfield microphone. We tested one of these microphones to explore how audio plays into building immersive experiences for virtual reality. Approaching ambisonics with the soundfield microphone has become popular in development for VR particularly for 360 videos. With it,...

    Continue Reading

  • Prototyping Spatial Audio for Movement Art

    One of Oscillations’ technical goals for this quarter’s Knight Lab Studio class was an exploration of spatial audio. Spatial audio is sound that exists in three dimensions. It is a perfect complement to 360 video, because sound sources can be localized to certain parts of the video. Oscillations is especially interested in using spatial audio to enhance the neuroscientific principles of audiovisual synchrony that they aim to emphasize in their productions. Existing work in spatial......

    Continue Reading

  • Oscillations Audience Engagement Research Findings

    During the Winter 2018 quarter, the Oscillations Knight Lab team was tasked in exploring the question: what constitutes an engaging live movement arts performance for audiences? Oscillations’ Chief Technology Officer, Ilya Fomin, told the team at quarter’s start that the startup aims to create performing arts experiences that are “better than reality.” In response, our team spent the quarter seeking to understand what is reality with qualitative research. Three members of the team interviewed more......

    Continue Reading

  • How to translate live-spoken human words into computer “truth”

    Our Knight Lab team spent three months in Winter 2018 exploring how to combine various technologies to capture, interpret, and fact check live broadcasts from television news stations, using Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant device as a low-friction way to initiate the process. The ultimate goal was to build an Alexa skill that could be its own form of live, automated fact-checking: cross-referencing a statement from a politician or otherwise newsworthy figure against previously fact-checked statements......

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More