Weather icon: Are we expecting triangles tonight?

The origins of weather icons we know today

In 2013, I noticed the new, animated background images for the iPhone’s iOS 7 weather app. I thought they were nifty, like looking out the window, though I never questioned why I didn’t actually just look out the window.

Anyway, even without the photo-realistic images, the weather icons were there to tell me what weather to expect for the rest of the day. The icons seemed timeless, ot at least part of the “Global Experience Language” “Timeless” seems to be a relative term for me. In the NY Times article, “Who Made That Weather Icon?” I learned that those cloud and sun icons were created in 1974, by designer Mark Allen.

Back then, TV presenters slid magnetic symbols around a metal map: dots for rain, asterisks for snow, lines to mark off areas of equal pressure. “They were just hieroglyphics as far as everybody was concerned,” Allen says. “Why was a triangle a rain shower?”

The BBC retired the icons in 2005, but they were modernized for the 2011 redesign of the weather website.

Here is an excellent article from lead designer, Melanie Seyer, where she goes through the the vision, research of user needs, streamlined sitemaps, and concepts.

It is interesting to see how they attempted to add personality and context for activities while keeping it simple enough to adhere to the user experience mantra “Don’t make me think!”

Early exploration of weather iconography looked at whether we need to show a weather sequence … or a snapshot of a certain weather situation (1: Raining cats and dogs, 2: High temperatures, 3: Weather perfect for a picnic)

They opted to update Mark Allen’s icons with “sharper angles, heavier weights for smaller sizes and a new set of symbols for handling nighttime conditions” to improve the appearance on digital displays of various sizes.


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