New website

Thinking digital

18 July 2012

As the emphasis on digital media continues to grow, we increasingly expect to have information how, when and where we want it. And weather forecasts are no exception.

For an organisation like the Met Office, staying on top of the latest developments in the digital world is crucial. Because technology moves so fast, this means constantly listening to users to understand what type of weather and climate information they want - and responding both with new innovations and updates of current technology.

"We have given our website a fresh new look, introducing innovative new features to improve the visitor experience. We've also listened to our users and taken up many of their suggestions."

One such update was the launch of a new website at the end of March 2012.

The updates, which involved teams right across the Met Office, aim to make things even easier for users, as Terry Makewell, Head of Web & Media explains:

"We have given our website a fresh new look, introducing innovative new features to improve the visitor experience. We've also listened to our users and taken up many of their suggestions."

The need for change

The reasons for building the new site were three-fold. The first was feedback from existing site users. "We have a very engaged user base and that's always been very valuable for us," says Terry. Gathering feedback is a constant process, but it was time to take these suggestions and turn them into reality.

Secondly, consultations with key stakeholders identified what users expect when visiting the site. As Don Leslie, Met Office Communications Manager describes, "We've listened to our users and taken up many of their suggestions. They highlighted the desire to extend the three-hourly forecasts to make them available for five days ahead - which has now been put in place."

The third reason is connected to the changes in both science and technology that have taken place since the launch of the last site. These significant advances have led to the development of new products and ways of displaying content - for example, temperature range forecasts and timelines.

A better user experience

Every change to the website was made with a single goal in mind; to create a better experience for visitors: "It's basically about understanding what our users want from the site and ensuring that we provide them with all relevant information," says Don. This means working towards providing a more intuitive, more interactive and overall more usable site.

What's changed?

The new website has a refreshed look and feel, as well as improved navigation and new content. Following user feedback, the Met Office reworked the design and layout of the site to create a more intuitive environment. It now features:

> new homepage - incorporating a 'widget' style approach

> new content - including more detailed weather information, more quickly accessible

> improved navigation - more intuitive with a new look and feel

> increased customisation - capsulated content in configurable widgets means users have much more control over their experience

> forecasts from more sites - weather information is now available for over 5,000 forecast sites

> pan and zoom maps - giving users a forecast more closely tailored to their needs

But, as with all the media types, platforms and possibilities available today, connecting with people is not just a matter of having a slick website, as Terry explains.

"We've got to look at what we can do across multiple channels, including mobile devices, tablets, TV and radio as well as being more active in the digital environment in general."

The Met Office's social media is already thriving - but the challenge is to constantly evolve and stay with, if not ahead of, the times. Making sure media broadcasts take full advantage of new methods, in addition to more traditional channels, is also critical.

Staying one step ahead of users takes foresight and planning. The Met Office is constantly looking further afield at emerging trends as they happen, and being proactive about things people will find useful, but may not have come across yet: "We're thinking about what users will require in one, two, three years' time - so we can engineer our digital future accordingly."

Looking ahead

In such fluid times for information sharing, the Met Office has many plans in the pipeline for further development. This will involve a more integrated approach - bringing all media channels together to make information more easily accessible. So it's not just giving users the content they want, but also the chance to choose the medium that works best for them, at any given time.

Although it's still early days, the response to the new site so far has been very positive. As Terry says:

"The Met Office is a very forward-thinking organisation, and there have been some excellent teams involved internally in developing the new website, so I'm very pleased with what's been done - but I'm also very excited about where we're going to take it next."

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