No longer just a small talk cliché, getting accurate information about The Weather has become a matter of survival. The polar vortex is waiting for us and we need to know how bad it is out there.
Looking for answers, I typed “weather” into Google. Weather.com was the first result. I naively assumed I’d come to the right place.
User-centered design involves establishing certain tasks and then designing a system which makes the completion of those tasks as simple as possible. In the case of Weather.com, a user’s most important task is to find information about current local weather conditions.
The “most popular” story on Weather.com is “Never Before Seen Photos of the Challenger Disaster”—hyperbole (and solemn anniversaries) aside, no wind chill level could equal the awfulness of that explosion. Weather.com: Why are you featuring this slideshow? What are you trying to prepare me for?
Another "recommended" story is one about a disabled kitten who fortunately (and adorably) survived a surgery of some kind. Is this kitten helpful with snow and/or up for adoption? I don't understand.
Weather.com divides the rest of its content into categories, some of which are weather-related (Winter Storm Central), while others are outside the scope of a weather site (Health, Travel, Countdown to the Super Bowl).
To be fair, a good portion of prime screen real estate is devoted to the latest vortex intel.
There’s a slideshow of stories about the negative effects of sustained, sub-freezing temperatures: stranded travelers, closed schools, states of emergency, etc. There are warnings against going outside and maps in different shades, the darkest (and therefore coldest) of which always seem to hover over Chicago.
There’s more concrete information on the left rail. Temperature, wind chill—these are weather’s meat and potatoes, sure, but all numbers become abstractions eventually. I don't know what -9 degrees feels like. There’s a disconnect between the information a user needs, and the information Weather.com provides.
You know what would be really helpful? If, once I typed in my location, Weather.com gave me a weather report like the following:
I applaud your efforts to discourage it, Weather.com, but I will go outside if I have to. And once that decision is made, I’m in need of more specific information.