February 2022 - August 2022
UX / UI Designer
Rote is a one-stop location for asset discovery and retrieval for immersive journalists across the story development workflow, from pre-production to post-production, editorial review, and deployment.
The extended reality (XR) industry — which includes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), — is projected to grow from $43 billion in 2020 to $333 billion by 2025. This growth provides an opportunity to address prospective changes to complementary industries resultantly affected by changes in consumer behaviour.
My team, assessed one such industry, journalism, to learn more about how it is responding to rather rapidly emerging behaviours, workflows, and technologies.
We reviewed literature and conducted landscape analysis to critically, constructively, and creatively investigate the potential implications of immersive technologies in journalism.
To understand immersive creators’ needs, we first needed to understand who they were, and where they are located within the existing journalistic landscape.
The eco-system below highlights the actors within the immersive journalism spaces such as the newsroom, who is responsible for identifying, reporting, and developing a story. Suppose a story has the potential to be told using immersive technology, the newsrooms collaborate either with dedicated departments that exist within the organization, or with independent contributors who are brought on board to help develop the story further.
Once we had defined who immersive creators were, we sought to understand:
What are their goals?
What technologies are they using?
What kinds of stories are they telling?
What challenges do they face?
My team and I conducted semi-structured interviews to understand immersive creators’ workflows, challenges, goals, and means by which they interface with immersive technologies to create immersive journalistic stories.
Our rationale behind semi-structured interviews was as a result of the variance in background, role, and skill set of our recruited population. Doing so enabled us to comprehensively and flexibly capture every participant’s experiences.
We used snowball recruitment to recruit 9 participants for this study. We talked to directors of XR projects, directors of emerging technologies, software engineers, etc. from news organizations such as the New York Times, Front-Line, Verizon, BBC etc to get a better understanding of the field.
In addition, all our participants have directly involved in the development or production of at least one immersive journalistic story in the past 2 years.
We made the decision to structure our interview process into 2 parts: Discovery and Magic Wand Activity.
The discovery portion of the interview was a standard semi-structured interview where we asked participants questions about current use cases for immersive journalism, the technologies that the field is using, the kinds of stories being shared, and the goals and challenges they face. The categories of questions that we asked revolved around:
Exploration of recent work
The magic wand activity section was a walkthrough activity where we asked participants to recall a past project they had worked on and take us through how they imagined that project would look if they had no technological, process, or funding limitations.
By exploring a creator's recent immersive news story, we did this to understand the successes and pain points of existing immersive creation workflows.
After conducting our interviews, we began to synthesize our data to derive emergent themes and findings. We first started out with transcribing the interview data for each participant and mapping it on Miro against categories or buckets.
The synthesis allowed us to generate a high-level immersive journalism workflow, beginning from Development, Field Production, Digital Production, Editorial Review, and finally, Distribution.
This helped us to visualize the timeline of events that immersive creators go through when generating a story.
When we interviewed our participants, we derived insights related to the storytelling process, specifically development, digital production, and distribution stages.
However, the only problem was these insights pertained to a specific sub-sect of creators, such as reporters, VR/XR/MR designers, etc. Most of our participants assumed managerial and producer-level roles; hence, using these insights to drive our design decisions would not truly represent our target audience's challenges.
In addition, some of the insights that we uncovered were in relation to immersive technologies (VR headsets, AR glasses, Rendering Software etc). For example, we learned how difficult it is to create realistic VR experiences , or how sound plays a huge role in creating immersion, or that VR experiences best worked with assets that are smaller in size.
Recognizing that we were not technologists and that we wanted to build a solution that was centered on our users, we decided not to focus on insights pertaining to the technology.
However, you can read more about these insights in our research report.
Hence, the insights that best reflected the pain points of our users were about the storytelling and creation process. Therefore, my team made the decision to scope down and focus user centered insights. They are as follows:
One of the insights we uncovered was that immersive creators ensure that their work does not spread misinformation and is as factual as possible.
A participant shared that they constantly grapple with the need to preserve the authenticity of their stories so as not to mislead the audience. Even though this sometimes comes at the expense of improving engagement.
We also have to ask the question of, are we misleading the viewer in any way?
Having teams across the globe and working together can be hectic
All of the creators we talked to mentioned that the teams they work with are distributed and dispersed across the globe.
This makes collaboration difficult, especially in situations when there is a reporter on the go in one of the remote places in South America or Producers in India.
Or instances where teams have no unified system of organizing and searching for assets because they adopt different workflows or use different cloud-based storage or sharing platforms.
Figure: Distributed teams across the globe
Despite the fact that there is a "typical" workflow, it is not always consistent across different organizations and teams and there are still gaps in workflow processes.
We still don't have the storytelling process and the workflows worked out.
Figure: Undefined workflows
Now that we had a clearer understanding of the pain points of our users, we began our ideation process by brainstorming 60 possible directions we could take to address these issues.
We explored concepts with varying immersive technologies such as augmented reality and 360-degree virtual reality across different modalities.
Figure: Snapshot of the ideation process
One of the design directions, that we were leaning towards was the idea of having software that provides checks for factuality such as altered or modified media, and geo-location tags and provides usability feedback for creators.
The second design direction was a communication platform for creators to communicate and collaborate with others during the story development process. However, with this idea, the team did not feel it was tackling the other workflow complexities.
The idea for Rote was conceived when we saw a unique opportunity to merge both of the ideas above and create a multimodal ecosystem that allows immersive creators to gather assets for a story and collaborate to create as accurate a story as possible.
The storyboard below illustrates the concept.
Figure: Storyboard explaining the concept of Rote
Below is a high level view of how the repository functions as well as the context and place of use.
The factuality check feature of our solution was a design decision that we made to address the need for creators to tell accurate stories. However, because we wanted AI to create and validate checks, we recognized that a feature like this would encourage bias.
For example, who defines what is "factual”? The producer, reporter, or 3D Designer?
Therefore, we decided to leave this check-up to our users instead of implementing an AI-based system. In doing so, we believe our choice empowers our users, who are trained for this kind of needed factuality."
We recognized the power of translating our concept into a mobile system, which would allow reporters to truly capture and upload assets to the repository on the go.
Considering scoped constraints like time, however, the team ultimately chose to focus on a desktop-based solution due to the power and complexity of the system advantages for journalists, which we assume are of higher priority.
That said, mobile features would have been an ideal next version in a hypothetical future where we had more time with this product."
Once we had fleshed out the idea of Rote, we began our wireframing process. We did not start with low-fidelity prototypes because we adopted rapid prototyping due to time constraints.
I will detail the decisions and initiatives that I led during this process. The first design element that the designer and I on the team explored was how creators could explore assets.
The initial mid-fidelity wireframe for the asset repository displayed assets according to types, such as images, videos, and audio. With this view, assets are dispersed across the screen, making it hard to know what exactly to look for.
Figure: View displays assets as type
However, leveraging the interviews conducted, I recognized that creators would benefit from having the option to view assets as themes within the repository.
So I added a toggle button, that allows creators to shift from exploring assets as themes or types. This way, creators in their finger painting or exploratory stage can explore categories of pre-defined assets, making their workflow easier and preventing them from becoming overwhelmed with the array of assets presented in the repository.
Figure: View displays assets as themes
The other design decision I made was for the creation of a "cluster." Think of it as a personal workspace where creators can drag and drop assets they like, which they can later access and download when they are ready to create or contribute to the story development process.
Figure: User dragging and dropping assets into a "cluster" titled "Don't forget Ukraine"
We then moved on to the high-fidelity wireframes and explored different visual design directions. The first is asset representation. We initially set up to represent the assets as bubbles in order to re-imagine how exiting repositories are designed.
Figure: Assets represented as "bubbles"
However, I recognized that users would have difficulty viewing the assets from a usability standpoint because of the circular representation. It makes it hard to see the assets, does not display any supporting information and is not intuitive.
In addition, in events where the search produces multiple assets, having multiple circles on the screen can become overwhelming and further obstructs users from seeing the assets they need.
Figure: Assets represented as cards
So then I explored representing the assets as cards, allowing users to scroll to reduce visual overload; however, there were still other opportunities to improve the visual design and user experience, such as displaying asset metadata to simplify user flow.
You can read our design documentation here to get a better sense of our design and product rationale.
After numerous iterations and creating a visual language, we created Rote, the one-stop location for asset discovery and retrieval for immersive journalists as they build stories, from pre-production to post-production, editorial review, and deployment.
Below is a video of a "hypothetical" team talking about how Rote integrates into their workflow and how it impacts and shapes their stories.
Because of the time constraint on this project, my team and I did not get more research and evaluative efforts. We realized that while most of our participants were creators of immersive stories, they mostly observed managerial and producer roles. I would have loved the opportunity to talk to other creators, such as journalists or 3D creators, to get a better sense of the challenges they faced with their workflow.
Nevertheless, our research was rich and gave us the insights we needed.