Built in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Consular Affairs, and deployed in multiple cities around China, AirMatters was born out of a mobile web application created to display current air quality readings in Beijing China from U.S. Embassy air monitoring stations. It’s sole purpose was for individuals and schools to make decisions about when/how to do physical fitness. The applications read a Twitter feed, parse the data, store the readings, and then display with a simple visualization that complies with the EPA color scheme. At its height, the mobile web app was getting upwards of 1.5M views per month.
This project is an example of “designing for moments” and “avoiding outlier needs”. For example – many people would email us asking for a feature to scroll back in time, or visualize a yearly trends. Those requests were met with access to a raw data feed, but the general user of the app simply wanted to know “when should I work out?”.
Technologies: PHP, CodeIgnitor, and WordPress for the primary site. We also created a widgets for schools to use in their portals.
Status: We are still maintaining the system and actively in develop of a non-HTML iOS and Android version.
For our iOS and Android versions, we recognized that users don’t care about the EPA color thresholds. Instead, they simply need to have a “sense” of the pollution to decide if they want to exercise, or spend extended amounts of time outside. Thus, we reduced the cognitive load of the previous app to it’s most essential utility by using an analog face.
We’ve preserved the EPA colors but they now blend. For example, a high “orange” level is also a low “red”. More importantly, having the colors along a continuum allows us to eliminate a “key” to decipher the colors. Text explaining the current reading is displayed on a secondary pane for new users. Experienced users will never need to read the text.