How flood warnings should look online

If you live anywhere in Britain, it won’t have escaped your attention that it’s been raining a bit, recently.

This has been causing quite a bit of flooding. And when flooding happens, people need to know if it is going to affect them.

Unfortunately, the Environment Agency flood warning website leaves something to be desired. It is, quite frankly, a usability dogs’ breakfast, with problems including:

  • It doesn’t answer the main question: Most users arriving at this page simply want to know if they might be in danger. The page should be all about answering that question.
  • It is trying to serve national and local needs: Information about flooding across the whole country might be useful to journalists or civil servants, but it shouldn’t be the main element.
  • Clutter, clutter: A massive grid of numbers which don’t really mean anything, plus lots of sidebar links.
  • Confusing graphics: The page contains a national map which doesn’t actually make it clear that the colours relate to the seriousness of flooding, or that it provides links to further content.

There are also some non-design problems with the postcode lookup, but today we want to stick to just the design issues.

Not just moaning minnies

View Mockup

At mySociety we try to be constructive in our criticism, and so whilst the flood waters are still draining from many people’s homes, we thought that we could do something positive. We want to show that a flood warning page could be an exemplar of clear, user-centered information design. So we made a mockup.

Some of the improvements we’d like to point out are:

  • A big page title that makes it obvious what this page is, and the fact that it is official information.
  • All the main elements on the page are now focussed on the most likely needs of potential flood victims – journalists can follow a link to a different page for their needs.
  • We’ve removed roughly 90% of the links on the page for clarity.
  • We’ve removed all numerical data because it wasn’t adding value. Nobody can know if ’5 warnings’ is a lot or a little without some context. As a nod to the overall context we’ve put in a simple graph, similar to a sparkline.
  • It presents a clear button to click on if you’re actually endangered by a flood.
  • It gives you a way to find out if other people near you are talking about local flooding via social media.

We hope you like this. It’s just the product of a couple of hours’ work, so if you have any suggestions on how it could be better, please let us know.

And, of course, we’re always happy to do similar work for other people.

6 Comments

  1. @Chunter – Indeed we did. Good luck to them, totally.

    @thatsbitrich – We’ve been showing how things can be done online for 8 years – I think it’s an entirely reasonable way to show that you have skills worth offering.

  2. My suggestion is the same as one I’ve already made to the Environment Agency: Show results on a map so that you can see exactly where might be at risk of flooding.

  3. I think this largely a matter of opinion. The EA web site has a large and clear section on its front page showing current flood risk. One click in you get to somewhere to enter your post code or utilise a map to see details.

    Your mock up risks making the Environment Agency the flood agency.