A digital commons proof-of-concept platform that allows citizens to compare their local weather changes over time.
Note: The information below describing this project comes directly from my written material at the time (2018). Fortunately, the awareness of Climate Change and the engagement around its issues by the wider public has drastically changed after recent events. As such, the data presented in this article was accurate at the time of writing. All sources are included at the end.
This proof-of-concept website allows citizens to upload a photograph of the weather on that day, in their location. This photo is merged with local weather data and plotted on an interactive timeline where the user can compare the weather visually over time. While also concurrently building an archive of localised climate data within their community.
Climate change is an ever-increasing global issue that is affecting weather patterns around the world. Additionally, some individuals may feel that the problem is distanced from them and their actions wouldn’t make a difference. Research shows that people observe changes in weather however they lack the concept of climate change to help them make sense of the changes they are currently experiencing.
According to a study by Yale University 40% of adults worldwide have never heard of climate change. People can often see the effects of climate change on the news, but this feels distant and not an immediate threat to the local environment. This has a negative affect on the population taking action.
By framing the issue at a local level the project’s primary aim is to make communities aware of changes over time and would like to further motivate people to consider their actions.
This platform aims to offer people a chance to contribute to the creation of knowledge, through visual data, which in turn will enhance their learning about climate change. Not only will it impact the users, but their friends and potentially the wider community to take small steps to aid the situation.
We wanted to take the user on a journey where they can inform their own learning. By personalising the experience and framing climate change locally but also addressing the wider global context at the same time was a challenging design problem.
People won’t learn more just by clicking on things, they need it layered in to the experience.
Various research methods were adopted to gain an understanding of the topic itself and to inform on how the platform should be presented.
- Competitor Analysis
Interviews – and later testing – were conducted with experts in areas of interest for our project. The first, a Climate Scientist at UWE named Dr.Woodland who provided much useful intel as to how different generations have been taught climate related subjects and how publics are informed.
The second, with Jay Bigford, Creative Director at Yoke an ethical design agency. The interviews were semi-structured which allowed the conversation to take a more natural path while using planned questions to remain on topic.
Below are some points drawn from these discussions that helped refine our scope further.
2. Personas and Mental Models
With social issues in particular, it’s important to understand the audience and their mental model. Sometimes a mental model can result in a selective knowledge uptake known as “confirmation bias”.
We divided our personas under two mental models so that these can be addressed with the correct framing. A ‘Local Frame’ takes the issue of climate change that so often feels distance and brings it to a local level which in turn increases a sense of connection.
The ‘Future Frame’ on the other hand taps into people’s desires to avoid future loss which would be more affective with attracting younger users.
3. Competitor Analysis
By better understanding the marketplace we can determine strengths and weaknesses of Weather Shift and how it is set apart from its competitors.
The comparison of data visually is Weather Shift’s USP. The primary focus of the design is on the comparison and visualising the sense of time and change that can go with it. But importantly, this data will be supported by climate and weather data that is paramount in making an impact and creating a useful experience.
You don’t want to make people feel helpless, you want to empower them to make a difference.
Beyond the photo compare feature the user can expand and inform their own learning. By scrolling down the page the user is taken on a linear narrative that applies context to their contribution.
This narrative details the causes, the current situation and future impacts of climate change on the weather. Consistently the information presented will be personal by addressing local changes through comparison visualisations.
To help evaluate the success of the platform, a call to action is displayed at the end of the narrative. The user could share their experience on social media which will hopefully attract more people. In addition, an option to sign up to an online petition for a local environment problem is presented.
After each iteration and test it became paramount to keep the language simple and the navigation straight forward as to appeal to a broader userbase with different education levels. We applied UX principles such as Fitt’s Law and Jakob’s Law to our design to strengthen it’s accessibility.
The user uploads a picture which is added to a database. On the results page, the picture remains on page-right to represent the current day/year while the user can select different years that will display a different photo alongside for instant comparison.
The user can’t be expected to remember information. By displaying both images it reduces the user’s memory load.
By placing ‘today’ prominently on screen and in contrast with the rest of the data it becomes quite a personal experience – as you visually compare your contribution to others.
Final Deployment and Features
We used task-based scenarios in our usability testing. We used the phenomenological approach to gain an insight into experiences that appear in consciousness through the method of concurrent think aloud. Instead of probing the users as they conducted tasks, we reserved asking questions to the end to avoid flustering the participants.
- The lack of past data from citizens during the early stages of deployment poses a problem and reduces the optimal user connection with the compare feature.
- Access to weather data around the UK can vary with a varying level of reliability too.
- The UK’s CO2 trend has an improved trajectory since 1970 and thus when included can contradict the overall trend and goal of Weather Shift.
- Any photographic content uploaded by users must be copyright free.
- A mobile-first approach would have suited this platform best. Uploading photos would be instant and would appeal to younger people too.
- Use of existing technology such as Instagram or Flicker could help boost data gathered and help promotion.
View Project Design Brief (PDF)
View Project Reflective Report (PDF)
- Center for Research on Environmental Decisions. (2009). The Psychology of Climate Change Communication: A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Educators, Political Aides, and the Interested Public. New York.
- Met Office (2018) What is Climate Change? Available from: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate-guide/climate-change [Accessed 08/04/2018].
- Lee, Tien Ming. Markowitz, Ezra M. Howe, Peter D. Ko, Chia-Ying. Leiserowitz, Anthony A. (2015) Predictors of public climate change awareness and risk perception around the world. Nature Climate Change. 5(), pp. 1014-1020.
- Interaction Design Foundation (2016) Fitt’s Law: The Importance of Size and Distance in UI Design. Available from: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/fitts-s-law-the-importance-of-size-and-distance-in-ui-design [Accessed 08/04/2018].
- Nielson Norman Group (2017) Jakob’s Law of Internet User Experience. YouTube . 18 August. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzb4mK9DiHM [Accessed 08/04/2018].
- Miller, G.A. 1994, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information”, Psychological Review, vol. 101, no. 2, pp. 343-352.
- Dennett, D (1991) Explaining Consciousness. London: Penguin Books.
- Giles, D.C. (2002) Advanced Research Methods in Psychology. Hove: Routledge.