Designing Trust: Design Style, Political Ideology, and Trust in “Fake” News Websites

Thomas J. Billard*, Rachel E. Moran

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Assessments of the trustworthiness of news outlets necessarily implicate visual design. The design of the newspaper has been a hallmark of its credibility; a newspaper looks trustworthy. But the relationship between design and trust is more complicated in a digital era. Agents of mis- and dis-information produce “fake” news outlets that look trustworthy, appropriating the design qualities of credible news outlets. This article brings together literature on trust in journalism, political esthetics, and pragmatist semiotics to analyze how fake news outlets seek to achieve trust. We conduct a visual analysis of both mainstream and “fake” news websites, identifying how “fake” news websites employ specific design elements in patterned ways that simultaneously (1) establish themselves as legitimate claimants to the label of “news outlet” and (2) differentiate themselves as outlets that can be depended upon to provide a certain class of political information that falls outside the mainstream. We argue that the news website is best understood as a design genre, within which there can be variations in design style. Fake news outlets must conform to the genre expectations of news websites. Beyond this, fake news websites must also employ design elements in ways that convey political ideology through style.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-546
Number of pages28
JournalDigital Journalism
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023


  • Design
  • credibility
  • design theory
  • digital journalism
  • graphic design
  • trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


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