The challenge for mobile surfing apps is to display large amounts of data on a small display, and allow surfers to compare detailed forecasts to find the best time and spot.
Most apps group the data by type, location or time, and place them in separate views. Even though this might make the data easy to organize, it is hard for users to make comparisons and decide on the best location. We believe the process of finding a good time and place to surf could be more efficient and enjoyable. Apps should not focus on categorizing large amounts of data, but instead start from the practical use cases. A good app leverages the interactive qualities of smart phones to overcome the apparent tradeoff between screen space and data amount.
In a broader sense, we believe data-driven mobile apps can deal more elegantly with large data sets, putting the user at the center of the application, not the data.
Surfers use a range of information channels to decide when to go where for good surf. For example, they may check the MagicSeaweed website on their home computer to look in detail at long term trends; or, they may call a friend living near the beach to get first-hand information about the current conditions.
Our initial interviews revealed that surfers want to use a mobile app to get an overview of the upcoming days. On-the-go and possibly in discussion with fellow surfers, the user wants a general impression of various spots, side by side. According to the surfers, the five most important types of data to compare are: wave height and period, wind speed, and the direction of each compared to the coastline. Importantly, these types of data are best understood in relation to each other. Things like water and air temperature, which are often prominently presented in surfing apps, were considered nice-to-have, but of less relevance to the decision process.
These and other insights revealed the role a mobile app can play in the surfer’s planning process. They helped us structure the forecast data around the surfer’ decision process.
Point Break simplifies finding the best surfing time and spot: it brings together the five most important forecast parameters of a location and combines these forecasts for multiple locations over multiple days—into a single view.
The vertical scrollable list view of spots elegantly combines map and graph data, showing three spots at a time. It shows each location’s wave height—the single most important data—in a chart over three days. Additionally, it shows detailed information on wave direction and period plus wind direction and speed of any one point in time. A horizontal slider lets the user quickly skim through the detailed information of all spots over the next three days. Wave and wind direction are displayed on a map, making it easier to read by showing their spatial relationship to the coastline.
The app also includes a single spot view, a search function and a menu to access nearby or favorite spots. Yet we believe it is the effectiveness of the multi-spot view that sets it apart from other mobile surfing forecast apps.
Interviews with surfers early on helped us understand the way they use forecast data in their decision-making. Comparing their needs with the current mobile apps on offer, we realized the segmentation of data was making it difficult to quickly compare between spots. We therefore dedicated most of our efforts to the interactive list view that opened up large amounts of data for quick scanning, without sacrificing readability or overwhelming the user.
The interface was developed simultaneously through wireframes, high fidelity graphic design and interactive prototypes. This parallel process helped us reveal opportunities and limitations early on. What seemed like problems in the wireframe design could sometimes be resolved with well-tuned graphics; similarly, what seemed like effective interaction in the wireframes could be checked through small interactive prototypes.
Throughout the process we consulted regularly with three surfers of various experience levels, who provided us with valuable feedback on our designs. Their advice was essential to steer us away from wrong assumptions and our biases based on existing mobile surf apps.