Pears to Pairs

Pears to Pairs

How might we increase reading comprehension and retention of Northwestern college students consuming political news from social media?

Design project with Milan Samuel, Morgan Uridil and Matthew Zhang

Early 2017 / San Francisco Bay

“I’m embarrassingly uninformed...Everyone was making fun of Gary Johnson for not knowing what Aleppo was and I was like s***.”

Quote from user research

Pears to Pairs is a smartphone-assisted in-person game that links major news events with pop culture topic, addressing the challenge of people only connecting with the news at a surface level.

Drawing upon the success of game apps like Spaceteam, the game is designed to be played in-person, relying on insights that direct physical closeness forms deeper social connections and a more enjoyable experience.

The Pears to Pairs game simultaneously presents connected players with a recent news headline and a selection of pop culture topics.

Each player selects a pop culture topic and then, in turns, must justify why their topic is most similar to the news item. Other players vote on one another’s responses by shaking their phones as the player is speaking, and the voters are tallied amongst the devices to select a winner.

User testing the VR experience at UC Berkeley. Photo by Matt Zhang.
User testing a board game experience with high school students visiting UC Berkeley. Photo by Matt Zhang.


We began by looking into how news is consumed, drawing in particular on research conducted by the Pew Research Center about news media trends.

Because 10% of respondents to Pew’s survey reported consuming news solely from the Facebook News Feed, we conducted user research on their experiences and found that Facebook users did not click into news article presented on their feeds, but only looked at the photo, headline, and summary presented.

From this, we determined that a key insight was the surface-level consumption of news; while people were not reading news articles from reputable sources in-depth, they were passively gaining information about the state of the world and able to give highly generalized indications about it.

This meant that many people were able to say “I think there’s an election going on in California” but would not be able to answer who was running in what electoral districts.


Next Steps

Pears to Pairs evolved into the next design project, Tipping Point.