Weather apps tend to tell you too much information or too little. They either reskin superficial information you could glean by sticking your arm out the window or offer an absurdly deep dive that only a meteorologist running the worldwide network of doppler radars could understand. Can there be no happy medium?
Weathertron, by Ryan Lucas and Kevin Lynagh, may have found the sweet spot. It’s an iPhone app that sucks in 16 different weather sources, then translates the relevant information into a clear data visualization.
"We didn’t set explicitly out to design a minimal or a maximal UI for this app," Lucas tells Co.Design. "We just wanted to convey the most useful information as quickly as possible."
At first glance, you might be overwhelmed by its bar graphs and cloud gradient, but like any well-designed infographic, within a few moments, you speak its language. The single-page daily forecast is basically one scrubbable timeline. Various layers of information run from the top to bottom. And moving your thumb left to right brings you into the future. At the very top of the screen, you see the most basic breakdown for the moment—like clear and 62 degrees. If you want to delve no deeper, that’s your weather report. As your eyes glance down the page, the next thing you reach is a graph of cloud cover through the day. Rather than convey the degree of cloudiness as a percentage, Weathertron features cloud symbols of five varying opacities. "A bonus here is that they actually look like clouds," Lucas explains, "so not only is it visually easier to parse than a table of numbers, it looks a heck of a lot better."
Below that comes a graph of precipitation. Again, rather than pulling up some percentage chance of rain, the app spells out how much rain there’s supposed to be in an hour-by-hour bar graph. But that’s only part of the utility, because the way that graph is calculated is actually a bit of a perceptual hack.
"Since folks plan their day around either ‘a sprinkle of rain’ or ‘a downpour,’ the precipitation bars are scaled logarithmically instead of linearly," Lucas writes. "That way, when there is any rain whatsoever, the user can see it, but if there is a ton the bar won’t uselessly spike off the top of the chart."
Finally, you reach a simple line graph of the temperature forecast. The highs and lows are marked, but to keep the visuals clean, you’ll actually need to scrub through with your thumb to find the precise times of all these temperatures. Your eyes are then pulled right back to the top of the page—that clear and 62 degrees forecast, or maybe 50s and rain tonight. (A quick swipe of the screen pulls up tomorrow’s forecast. And a seven-day forecast is always just a tap away.)
You may wonder, why go through this whole series of graphics if all you wanted to know was the weather report? Well, like any useful data visualization, Weathertron is a medium between the superficial and the informational to create something that’s just more sensical through context.
"You can step back and view all the data in concert and really see the relationships," Lucas explains. "Like a quick drop in temperature, accompanied by quickly collecting cloud cover and a big precip spike can represent a storm. We really haven’t seen a lot of other apps—or weather reports of any kind—coming at the data with this visual approach."
Weathertron is in the App Store now for $1.