How Our Fact-Checking Mascot was Born
Here it is, I’m writing my first Medium post, and I would like to write about the story behind our fact-checking mascot! I’m a visual designer at ASL19, where we help Iranian citizens to assert their digital rights and access information online. In 2017, we launched the first Iranian political fact-checking website called “Factnameh” a day after April Fools’ day which is also the International Fact-checking Day!
What’s the story behind Factnameh’s branding?
Design thinking! Yes, we did it like any other designer. We wanted to create a brand that Iranians could relate to, something that empathises with people, with their voice, culture, and language.
We brainstormed to come up with a theme and a story for our brand, and the most appealing story was related to Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) from a well-known Persian poet, Ferdowsi. “Shahnameh” is profoundly important for Iranians, not only for its epic stories from ancient Persia, but also for the special place it occupies in the Persian culture, history and language. Although fact-checking, in the form that we had in my mind is a Western practice, we intended our project to have a distinctive Iranian personality. So, we decided these two should be reflected in our name, and that’s how we merge the word fact and nameh (an old Persian meaning book).
We came up with a name that is modern, and at the same time has Persian characteristics for its Iranian audience. Factnameh, “The Book of Facts”, connects the main ingredients of fact-checking with the epic stories of “Shahnameh”.
Why did we think we need a mascot?
From our user research and feedback, we knew that topics like fact-checking and news are too serious and formal among a vast majority of people. With that in mind, we started a series of meetings and activities to find our brand’s personality. We asked questions like, how should our brand behave and feel in order to attract more eyes?
To have a user-centric design, we figured that we want to have a brand that is trustworthy, reliable, and exciting to users. Mascots are a viable solution to create empathy with users. In fact, we were inspired by a fact-checking website from Mexico where they used their mascot to communicate different impressions for each of their ratings. In order to find an emotionally driven mascot, we went back to our theme Shahnameh. First, we gave our mascot a personality, a person who is wise, profoundly experienced, detail-oriented, and unbiased. With that in mind, I started sketching a few ideas inspired by a hero in Shahnameh, “Rostam”. Here is what I came up with initially:
What feedback did we get?
Interestingly, there was some feedback that the mascot doesn’t look like a person who is very experienced, he’s more like a warrior! We had decided to brand this character as our fictional editor-in-chief. However, he wasn’t a right person for this crucial position.
I moved away from the characters within “Shahnameh”, and took a closer look at the poet, Ferdowsi. He seems to be a wise and experienced person, and with more creative research on him, and I came up with a few sketches that we liked.
Mascot Design Inspired by Ferdowsi
With a lot of iterations, revisions and obviously feedback within the company and outside, we finalized our mascot:
Factnameh’s Final Mascot
Wait! We haven’t chosen a name yet!
We value a user-centric design, and to be honest, it’s extremely hard to be thousands of kilometers away from our main users and get productive feedback. We had a few ideas for the name of our mascot, but in one of our brainstorming meetings we came up with the idea of launching a campaign on social media and ask our users what they recommend. We shared the mascot along with his personality and asked users what would you name our editor-in-chief? From their responses, we liked “Mirza”. It fit perfectly with the website’s branding since the title itself was used fordenoting a rank of a nobleman or a scholar.
Mascot’s impression was the key
Beside the Mexican fact-checking website, we found a few other examples among fact-checking/promise tracking community where they’ve used mascots. I definitely enjoyed creating 6 different impressions for Mirza, and the process was quite fun when we started doing all these facial expressions in the office to see how people would look when they see an “Outrageous” statement!
Mirza’s impressions for our fact-checking ratings
Long story short
From empathy, ideation to the solution. To this date, Factnameh has produced more than 180 fact checks of statements made by more than 80 officials and media outlets in Iran. For me, the key success in branding of Factnameh was how we eagerly wanted to touch our users’ feelings when they’re shocked or amused by seeing a statement. We wanted to deliver fact-checking to a wider audience, not just journalists or news junkie. Eventually, we’ve done it with professional contents, a colorful and exciting design, and of course with silly impressions of “Mirza.”