Designing Up a Storm

by Hooligan Barney Miller

Okay. Hereʼs the deal. Irene was pressing down on my upstate weekend shack. My kids had
flashlights, water, and everything else we were told to have during a big storm. We were ready. While
the internet was still on, I thought Iʼd just check out the storm track online and see how bad we were
gonnaʼ get it up in Germantown NY. 10 minutes later I was so damn frustrated I couldnʼt stand it. It
seemed like every weather siteʼs “storm” map-thing just sucked. Form, function, the whole nine yards.
They loaded slowly, the graphic buttons were confusing, they looked ugly and I couldnʼt get the
information I wanted. Where was the storm now, how strong was it and when were we gonnaʼ get it.

Then, as the winds picked up outside there was a ray of sunshine in the online world. MSNBC had a
storm tracker that was AWESOME! Here it is: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26295161/ns/weather/t/
hurricane-tracker/

 

 

 

 

 

 

It just made sense. Looked nice. The navigation buttons made sense and were nice and big enough.
Loaded well. I found out that the Catskills, to our west, were gonnaʼ get the brunt of it and that we, in
Columbia county, were gonnaʼ get it pretty bad, but the wind would not be hurricane strength, which was
good to know.

Ultimately, after the storm had passed, my kids were let down. We had a slight leak from all the rain,
but no flood, no power outage, no major damage. Clara, my 6 year old said, “This hurricane was
boring!” And Iʼm sure it was for her. But the storm tracker wasnʼt.

Now this may seem like a frivolous thing to care about in the middle of what was for some people a
real disaster, but hereʼs what I took away from it.

Design matters.

In a real, and tangible way. Thereʼs a reason iPhone is more popular than other phones with more
features. Design. Think of the spoon you search for in the silverware drawer each morning. The one
you like better than the others cause it just feels right with your bowl of cereal. Or maybe itʼs a certain
coffee mug at your home or office. Or a pair of pants that fit just right. The list goes on. You may think
you donʼt care about design, but when design is right and good then the flow of your day is better even
if you donʼt notice it consciously — storm or no storm.

I looked up who designed the MSNBC tracker and found Stamen design. Listen to them explain how the tracker came to be: http://stamen.com/clients/msnbc_hurricane_maps (Poke around their site. Nice stuff.)

So why is a film editor blogging about design? Because editing is sort of the same thing. At first
glance, itʼs just “putting all the shots together”. But itʼs really more. Itʼs about how those pieces fit
together. Every storm tracker had the same data: map of the US, satellite info, wind speed and
rainfall etc. Kindaʼ like having the same footage, right? But only one of them put it together in a way
that made sense. That felt right. That worked right. That was, in fact, well designed.

The storm may have been natureʼs random wrath, but tracking it the right way could only be done by
intelligent design.