Design, Communication Faculty Join Forces to Combat Misinformation
Misinformation has permeated conversations across all walks of life. And in the Taylor Hall Gallery at Kent State University this winter, visitors can see misinformation exposed in a new, visually interesting way.
It’s all thanks to a collaboration between Associate Professors Sanda Katila of Visual Communication Design and J.D. Ponder of Communication Studies, who both explored misinformation with their classes during the Fall 2022 semester.
Design students in Katila’s class, Glyphix Research Laboratory, studied the intersection of language, image and lies while researching a specific instance of misinformation, ranging from the war in Ukraine, causes like recycling and body image, to historical events. They then designed a gallery exhibit wall, showcasing their research and calling out the misinformation.
But Katila knew her students would need more than just design expertise to pull this project off in a meaningful way. So she reached out to Ponder, who was teaching Media, War and Propaganda in Communication Studies. Katila and her students attended several of his lectures, and the students interacted with one another, learning how each discipline (design and communication) deals with misinformation differently, and where common themes intersect.
The design students’ final projects are on display in the Taylor Hall Gallery from Dec. 13, 2022, through Feb. 3, 2023. On the walls, visitors will see misinformation called out in a way that Ponder says he has not seen before: through visualizations and design.
Historically, fact checking and calling out misinformation tends to fall flat, Ponder says, because it is done strictly through text. It can be repetitive and difficult to compete with the “exciting” tactics and language companies and politicians use to push misinformation.
“And what you see (in this gallery) is a very visually interesting way of combatting misinformation,” Ponder said. “I’ve actually not seen this in practice, so I’m really excited to see how it works out. Because including a richer form of correction, where there’s visual images, there’s identification of particular tactics — that stuff, theoretically, should be a better correction than what currently is the standard practice.”
One of the most important things Katila worked with her students on to get to these final, dynamic visualizations, was compressing information.
“We talked about how having more information is not always useful to people and that when you try to show too much, people don't understand any of it. They walk away with no message,” she said. “So how much do you show? What do you show? What will people be able to absorb? How much research do you show?”
And interestingly, Katila said, it was one of Ponder’s lectures about propaganda surrounding the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit of 1992, that drove the point about succinct storytelling home for her design students. They kept going back to that conversation as they crafted their final designs.
“The students were amazing,” Ponder said. “In class, they asked questions, they brought up examples, (and the design students) engaged and pushed my students a lot. It was so much fun to have them there because they were doing research on their own individual types of misinformation and disinformation that is happening in the United States and the world right now.”