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Thesis: Obfuscation by Design
How Visual Complexity and Cognitive Bias
Shape Our Understanding of Political Information

My thesis focused on the way people interpret and understand visual information (such as graphs and infographics) in the context of politics and political news. However, my work began with a more basic core question: "How can design be used to give facts an advantage over opinion and misinformation?"

I employed multiple research methods, including surveys, think-aloud interviews and a sorting exercise.

I used several research methods over the course the project, including surveys, interviews, a sorting exercise and think-aloud sessions. This research led me to three significant findings:

  • People's existing beliefs lead them to inaccurate conclusions about political information.
  • The way information is framed can have a powerful effect on interpretation.
  • People come to much more accurate conclusions when they devote even slightly more attention and time to interpreting the information.

Based on these findings, I developed an interactive guide designed to help users gain a basic understanding of how visual characteristics can affect meaning. Additionally, I believed that the users' improved understanding of visual information would encourage them to devote a little more time and attention to any graphics they encountered thus circumventing any bias produced by framing or their existing beliefs.

The guide deigned to engage users with an informal quiz format that would be entertaining as well as educational. In order to reach the widest audience, I produced an interactive PDF as well as a printable guide. Informal testing showed that the guide was successful: users reported that they used the concepts outlined in the guide in subsequent evaluations of visual information. They also noted that the information in the guide was generalizable to areas other than politics.

If you'd like a more detailed explanation of my research, you can download the introduction or email me ( if you'd like to see the full document.