A 50% chance of showers: design to improve the communication of probabilistic weather forecasts

Recent improvements in weather forecasting technology have allowed the Met Office to produce new short-range forecasts of the likelihood of summer showers. This project, stemming from an existing NERC-funded collaboration in Meteorology, Psychology and Centre for Information Design Research (CIDR), will examine how design might support presentation of these forecasts to maximise their benefit to the general public.

Department: Typography & Graphic Communication

Supervised by: Alison Black

The Placement Project

The Met Office has recently implemented a short-range forecasting system which can predict the probability of rainfall with unprecedented precision. Understanding how best to communicate such forecasts to the public is key to exploiting the system’s potential. Existing research on public understanding of probabilistic forecasts shows that prior experience and the method of communication can affect end-users’ interpretation of forecast information. In this project (which is intended for three, linked UROP students working from meteorology, psychology and information design perspectives, although may proceed as an independent information design project, depending on funding) we will consider how best to communicate the new type of forecast to the public. The student in CIDR will review techniques for presenting probabilistic information in meteorological and other settings and then draw on this review to develop communication approaches relevant to typical forecasting scenarios. With input from the PI (and, according to funding, other students on the project) the CIDR student will focus further development on specific design proposals for testing with members of the public, possibly at an open-air public event, such as a concert or sporting event. Variables that might shape design proposals could be use of different kinds of graphic treatment, or combinations of graphic, verbal and numeric approaches. The student is likely to consider the opportunities and constraints of interactive media since short range weather forecasts are likely to be consulted on mobile or tablet displays. The student will gather background for this work by visiting the Met Office briefing on the new forecast system. Assuming the other, linked proposals receive go ahead, the student will be required to interact with their PIs and placement students.


1 Visit to the UK Met Office to discuss the forecasting system which will be studied (this may take place before the student’s placement starts). [1day] 2 Researching and presenting past and current approaches to communicating probabilistic information. [20% of placement] 3 Review of the relevance of different communication approaches to typical forecasting scenarios. [10% of placement] 4 Development of communication approaches. [30% of placement] 5 Detailed preparation of materials for testing with the public. [10% of placement] 6 Collection of survey data from members of the public. [4 days] 7 Production of one section of research paper relating to background to and development of materials for testing (figures and text). [15% of placement] 8 Meet with PI(s) and other UROP students (if participating) to review the outcomes of the research and their design implications. [5% of placement]

Skills, knowledge and experience required

The student will need the following key core skills appropriate to presenting data for public audiences: • Information/interaction design skills • Ability to work methodically through initial design research and options for presentation • Ability to communicate effectively with those from different disciplines. • Outgoing and friendly character to be able to carry out survey data collection. • Willingness to develop new skills, beyond degree specialism.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The student will develop the following skills during the placement: • Independent research skills • Specialist knowledge of information graphics and their alternatives • Team-working skills • Inter-disciplinary research communication skills • Research presentation and communication skills

Place of Work

The student will be based in the Centre for Information Design Research in teh Deaprtment of Typography & Graphic Communication. Travel to the Met Office and public event for research will be day trips.

Hours of Work


Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 15 July 2013 - Friday 23 August 2013

How to Apply

Students should submit a CV and a covering letter outlining why they would like to do the placement and what they hope to gain from this project in particular. Assuming all three UROPs (Meteorology, Psychology and Information Design) go ahead, the shortlisted students will be interviewed by the relevant PIs in Meteorology, Psychology and Information Design.

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