What is the role of design in sensationalist news and the spread of disinformation?
At EFI, we support cross-disciplinary research and approaches that produce outputs with meaningful impact. Through our affiliate programme, we are building a sustainable and impactful research environment that encourages, rewards, and promotes this type of research and its impacts.
Anna Kallen Talley, PhD candidate at the Edinburgh College of Art and EFI affiliate, is carrying out cross-disciplinary research into how communication design shapes how disinformation is produced and mediated.
What is disinformation?
Disinformation is perhaps one of the most consequential issues of our time. False, inaccurate, or misleading information is more than just an irritating internet phenomenon; it poses real risks to democracy. Disinformation can influence public opinion on political issues, making it harder for voters to make well-informed political choices.
Is disinformation a modern phenomenon?
In our increasingly digitized news environment, terms like ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative narratives’ are heard more and more frequently, and we are becoming more aware of the need to scrutinise the accuracy of information we receive from news and media outlets. This might lead us to think that the spread of disinformation is a relatively new phenomenon. However, sensationalist news design emerged in the late-nineteenth century and examples of false stories can be found even from even earlier in history.
Late-nineteenth century developments in printing technology, and later, the presence of designers in newsrooms and a movement towards Modernist aesthetics (such as clarity and simplicity) began to change how news was produced and communicated. Histories of news design draw connections between newspaper design and the perception of authority. This means that the way news is presented affects how ‘true’ an audience might perceive a story to be. The reasons for our perceptions of trustworthiness (or untrustworthiness) of sources may be rooted in early forms of sensationalist news and the establishment of particular styles associated with more “authoritative” news outlets.
Anna’s work will involve carrying out case studies on the first, infamous sensationalist newspapers in the United States (New York World and the New York Journal) to investigate the origins of sensationalist design and compare these to modern, digital news available online. By working across the disciplines of design, technology, history, and politics, her project will explore the evolution of these methods and tell us more about the ways in which disinformation is produced and mediated today.
Design and the future of sensationalist news
By learning about historical sensationalist design, developments in modern design ethics and policy can be made. This project emphasises the ethical responsibility of editorial designers in news production, and the importance of self-reflection by designers. As part of her research, Anna will work with editorial designers to gain a better understanding of contemporary practice and how they might consider their work in light of the historical research undertaken within the project. The project not only aims to shape ethical standards of practice for editorial designers, but also hopes to impact policies related to media which aim to combat the negative impacts of disinformation on democracies.
By using a cross-disciplinary approach to exploring the role that design plays in communication and the spread of disinformation, both historically and today, we can consider the ethical responsibilities of editorial designers and work with them to help combat disinformation.
Anna Kallen Talley is a researcher specialising in modern and contemporary design. Anna’s research is broadly framed by an interest in modern and contemporary design history in the United States and Europe and how design history can be used in tandem with design research to impact current practice. She is Online Editor for the Design Research Society and is currently working with the Design History Society on a series of programmes on the topic of Design History and the Digital Humanities.
This project is supervised by Dr Craig Martin (School of Design, University of Edinburgh), Dr Oliver Escobar (School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh) and Dr Dominic Hinde (Media and Communications, University of Glasgow)
This project is funded by SGSAH.