Partly Cloudy or Partly Sunny …

How much rain is the first versus the following graphics... Where's sleet?

The world uses graphic designers in order to break down its contents into manageable chunks… Chunks we can use without much elaboration. And so it is that I’m thinking about one of the most ubiquitous and yet misleading of icons: the weather graphic.

Weather graphics: everybody who reports the weather has them. Yet, the weather is wrong all the time and it’s because we live in a world where every detail is so managed that the question is whether we should eliminate the weather graphic completely. Obviously, we can’t (or won’t) because even a Stalinist era approach to ban graphics wouldn’t work and we need to see how much of a chance it is that it might rain or how and when the sun might come out. It’s just become one of these things I only trust with a healthy level of skepticism (coincidentally like one would trust communist-era news).

The graphic is so imperfect in saying whether it will rain or snow, when, and exactly how hard and for what duration. Go out one day and get a harder than drizzle and the next and just short of a downpour yet, I might still see the same three drops under the same gray cloud. Or even better, the year I did daily bike rides I only needed a 1 hour and 15 minute window to stay dry even on a day where it rained for two inches, I would never have counted on a simple graphic to tell me that. …I mean that’s what we’re talking about here: how much precipitation and for how long. Let’s dispense with the niceties: I don’t care if it’s sunny (that’s my default)… unless it hasn’t been for a while.

I care exactly when the rain is coming. Exactly. Precisely!! The national television weather graphic just doesn’t do it anymore… Once, I went on vacation and the weather said a hurricane was going to hit where I was. Did I pack up? No. I spent the next 24 hours tracking the specific trajectory of the storm, where it was and was not going to land. The storm tracked far south of where I was to make a difference. Is it the fault of the weather guy? Or my own expectation that there be simplistic meaning built into a weather forecast that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” answer.

Or has life changed to the point where detailed weather is needed? Let’s say you work indoors or work outdoors and dress the part what difference does it make.

One of the biggest transitions to adulthood was not caring what the weather did because I was only spending the ten hours out of the house going to work, being at work or coming home. Not fun, no matter whether it was raining or not. Or it seems to me that if you are a farmer, unless it’s raining in sheets, you’re kinda happy it’s raining, so that simple graphic works just fine.

It just seems things have changed. 4 x 4’s crave those challenging conditions. We need specificity to plan our lives perhaps to a degree that I can’t remember. Nowadays, street by street doppler, is the way I go, but it’s not simple I have to actually think about the weather.

It’s such a complex world. I need a graphic to display that!!!

By AIGA Baltimore
Published February 3, 2010