Global Warming Map – Review ptI

This is the first half of a two part review.
I did a skim review last month of the Foreign office’s recent Google Earth project showing the effect of 4 degrees average temperature rise. In short, its a great topic to work with but they could have done much better in terms of geoweb usability.

The project was originally produced as a 2D map which has been transferred to a Google Earth plugin and GEarth file presentation with more data. Click on the image to get to the original

I’ll be reviewing the presentation in the GEarth plugin (visible on the main page) and the theGEarth file which is linked to from the main page.

I’ve been in contact with the Kirsty Lewis the project manager (I’m not certain of her exact role) who’s commented on a draft of this review.

Press: Its got a lot of press attention e.g. this piece on channel 4 news.

Review Pros

Icons: The ‘Impacts’ icons (round and multi-colored) are clear, clean and use good symbols so the user can guess what they represent before actually clicking them. I like the use of color as well, by choosing less intense colors they’ve allow differentiation between impact layers without being overpowering.

Topic: Climate change is a global problem so Google Earth represents a good choice of medium. I especially like the overarching approach they’ve taken: ‘what will be the effect of a 4 degree rise in global average temperature’, because certainly here in the UK with our damp, cold winters a 4 degree rise in average temperature seems attractive if you think of it only in a shallow manner.

Acronyms and Jargon: Throughout the project both videos and maps, they steer clear of science acronyms and jargon which is good to see in a science communication project.

Review Cons
Use Points not Areas: The project marks areas with a colored ring and provides an icon of the same color nearby that can be clicked for more information. Thus we click a tap icon to find out that droughts in southern Europe are becoming more common. It would be better to give specific examples of droughts at several points as you could have then involved photos and a human scale story of the global problem. E.g. show a photo of a Farmer in Spain with dry soil running through his fingers and a personal story about how his farm is being affected.
Kirsty commented that she thought that this ‘specific location’ approach would lead to users incorrectly thinking that climate change is completely to blame for specific problems and that explaining the concepts would be complex and unwieldy. I see her point with this, climate change is often one of a number of factors producing a problem such as arid farms and climate change actually affects the probability of drought in a given area, it’s incorrect to say it produces droughts. However, I think you could add caveats that would work around these issues without overloading the content – I explain the issues to 14 year old students in 5 minutes using a betting analogy.

Multiple Areas at the same time: Another problem with the area approach is that its confusing to show multiple overlapping areas at the same time as can be seen in this screen shot of the GEarth plugin version:

There are multiple solutions to this confusing view, e.g. annotate areas with a color fill and white border and allow only one layer at a time to be viewed, I’ve produced a mock up below:

of course, it’s easier still to use points instead of areas as I recommend above.

Kirsty’s answer to this is that the circles make the point that areas are overlapping. That’s a fair point but you need to make it less visually complex when first viewed by a user. The circles would work better if they were introduced added one by one in a GEarth tour with an audio narrative (a concept I explore in in a book chapter).
She also thinks that its important that the GEarth presentation is visually similar to the original map so people understand the links between the projects and that removing the circles would severe that link. I think she’s correct that branding is important but that doesn’t mean you have to re-use all the details – just keeping the icons set is enough to link the GEarth and Map presentations in the user’s mind.
second half next week…