What will the weather be like in an hour? What about in a day? In most forecasts, you either see the day or the week. But Partly Cloudy, by Berlin creative consultancy Raureif, is an iPhone app that will tell you the weather at any time you’d like, all without ever leaving the metaphor of an analog clock face.
“When we first looked at the weather app market, we recognized that there were basically two types of weather apps: apps that are showing high-quality representations of weather conditions with very few facts (mostly as stock video or animations), and apps that offered as much info as possible with high-tech features such as real-time weather radar,” explains Creative Director Timm Kekeritz. “The earlier were appealing for designers, the later ones for meteorologists. We wanted to create an app for both types of users.
“As we at Raureif have a lot of experience in information and data visualization, it was pretty clear that our solution would not be based around raindrop animations or simple line graphs and tables.”
The compromise was Partly Cloudy, which combines an infographic with a clock face. The user can check the exact temperature, wind speed, and rain forecast at any particular time by dragging the dial to the hour (or day of the week, depending on the selected mode). Meanwhile, a gradient ring ranges from orange to blue, depending on the heat/coolness of the upcoming weather, offering an approximate “is it getting hotter, colder, or staying the same” mood-ring-overview of the general past and future.
This approach sounds simple enough, but it’s not 100% intuitive. So when you load the app, Partly Cloudy actually greets you with an annotated tutorial. The general aesthetic is perfectly graspable when spelled out, but the average user will probably need this quick tutorial to decode the app–a point that the studio is totally comfortable with.
“The clock is a powerful metaphor that is familiar to almost everyone, so it makes it easy to focus on the content (the weather) without having to understand the infographic first,” Kekeritz explains. He’s at least a bit right: Even if you don’t understand what you’re looking at, there is something innately familiar, inviting even, about the radial clock face. But would I have been patient enough to decode the image without having swiped through the tutorial first? I’m not entirely sure.
Yet whether or not you use Partly Cloudy, whether you agree that a clock face is the easiest or most fun way to read the weather, its very existence as what the company calls an “infographic weather companion” holds significance as part of a larger (totally entertaining) trend. Every week, another fairly brilliant design studio redesigns the weather through some $1 app (just check out this one, this one, or this one). And as only so many of these apps can actually sell, I can’t help but wonder if the weather app has become less a commercial strategy than a flag-planting rite of passage. The modern forecast app is “The Aristocrats” joke of the design world, with the weather on a mobile screen serving as a loose framework of improvisation, a means to riff within an effectively unlimited yet topically confining set of parameters.