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A Eulogy for Darkish Sky, a Information Visualization Masterpiece

A Eulogy for Darkish Sky, a Information Visualization Masterpiece

2023-03-22 11:01:15

On January 1, 2023, Apple sunsetted (pun meant) the Darkish Sky cell app on iOS. Apple bought the corporate behind the favored climate software in early 2020, then introduced that it might be shutting down the Darkish Sky purposes (first on Android, then on iOS and net), and eventually acknowledged in 2022 that the forecast expertise can be built-in into the Apple Climate app with iOS 16.

A comparison of Dark Sky with Apple Weather. The Dark Sky app is white. It's interface has a simple location marker with a list of forecasted temperature readings. Buttons at the bottom allow users to toggle between maps, forecasts, notifications and reports. The Apple Weather app has an image of the sky. It has current weather, hourly weather temperatures, and a 10-day forecast.
Comparability of Darkish Sky with Apple Climate.

However Darkish Sky was a lot extra than simply an API or a set of “forecast applied sciences.” The design of the Darkish Sky cell software represented a trademark of knowledge design as a result of the staff clearly obsessed over how individuals would really use the app each day.

Right here’s a gallery of screenshots I personally took within the final 12 months.

The design of Darkish Sky was so great that I might perceive the form of the climate at a look, even from a zoomed out view of the app.

Frequent use circumstances for a climate app

Earlier than we will dissect what makes the design of this app so particular, let’s outline the commonest use circumstances for a climate app. climate app makes an attempt to handle a spread of use circumstances in an individual’s life. Listed below are some widespread use circumstances for a climate app, beginning with the contextual objectives first:

You’ll discover that the questions I need to reply differ based mostly on the context and state of affairs I’m in. That is the proper state of affairs for software program that embraces good data design rules.

In Magic Ink, Bret Victor outlined data design “because the design of context-sensitive data graphics.” In contrast to static graphics, like a climate map in a newspaper, data graphics in software program might be extremely dynamic and may incorporate context from the user’s environment. 

Darkish Sky aggressively leaned into these concepts, and the staff labored laborious to show practically every little thing within the software right into a context-sensitive data graphic. Let’s dive deeper into some examples the place this notion is in full show.

Climate forecast for the day at a exact location

I’ll begin by itemizing my objectives when attempting to grasp the upcoming climate for the day:

The default expertise for the Darkish Sky software is to point out climate for the subsequent 12 hours at my exact location. Listed below are three screenshots from the app, from totally different days and areas. What do you discover?

Screenshots of the app showing 1) a storm system passing over the Northeast U.S., with a temperature chart by the hour and a note of precipitation at some of those hours, 2) the same same map, but with a change-of-precipitation chart, and 3) an extended hourly temperature chart with buttons allowing the user to choose to focus on temperature, feels-like temperature and precipitation.

The app contextualizes the data that’s introduced based mostly on what’s most related.

Within the left-most screenshot, the context of the climate storm that’s passing by my location and a few potential gentle rain is emphasised to the person. The wind advisory and dip within the “seems like” temperature additionally make honorable mentions. Together with the clickable Wind Advisory warning, I can shortly perceive that the storm has handed my particular location however I ought to nonetheless be conscious of the wind.

Screenshot of the app showing a storm system passing over the Northeast U.S., with a temperature chart by the hour and a note of precipitation at some of those hours, plus a wind advisory.

Within the center screenshot, the storm entrance heading my path, the approaching rain beginning throughout the hour, and the hours of rain later within the day are emphasised entrance and heart. Primarily based on my curiosity within the rain, I scrolled down (not proven in screenshot) to modify from temperature to rain likelihood for the primary climate view.

Screenshot of the app showing the storm map, but with a change-of-precipitation chart over the coming hours.

Within the right-most screenshot, the temperature distribution all through the day is emphasised.

Screenshot of the app showing an extended hourly temperature chart with buttons allowing the user to choose to focus on temperature, feels-like temperature and precipitation.

There are many little particulars which might be simple to overlook, as properly. For instance, all three screenshots above begin exhibiting climate data beginning on the present second (“now”) and onwards. That is good, as a result of I solely sometimes care about climate from just a few hours or days in the past. (To accommodate these conditions, the app did have a novel Time Machine view to discover previous climate knowledge.)

Climate forecast for the week

Let’s revisit our objectives when attempting to grasp the climate for the week:

Whereas many different climate apps concentrate on serving to me perceive the climate on the metropolis degree, the Darkish Sky app differentiates itself by enabling me to grasp the climate with a hyperlocal view. I can view the climate at particular addresses and landmarks and perceive how the climate is perhaps totally different in a metropolis heart in comparison with the cities round it.

By default, the Darkish Sky app exhibits the weekly climate abstract at my present location (screenshot on the left).  I can contextualize the weekly climate view by clicking the search icon and typing within the different location I’m concerned with (screenshot on the fitting).

Two screenshots of the DarkSky app for different locations, showing the coming days' high and low temperatures, rain chance, and the extent of rain, sun, wind, and cloudcover.

At a look, I can shortly perceive:

  • Which days are prone to rain.
  • Which days have broad temperature ranges (low lows and excessive highs).
  • The overall form of the climate (micro-trends).
The same screenshot as before, showing daily temperatures, precipitation and other elements with author annotations calling out 
the highs and lows for the week. The chart presenting this information shows the "shape" of the weather as the temperature lines move up and down.

Gallery of refined design parts

Within the first few sections, I laid the groundwork by diving a bit extra deeply into particular features of Darkish Sky. Now that I’ve hopefully engaged your essential design eye, I’d wish to elevate different parts within the app’s design in a extra rapid-fire style. I hope that this part will present some concepts and inspiration for individuals designing their very own data-rich purposes.

Preserving temperature magnitudes in ranges

To characterize knowledge visually, the info must be mapped from “knowledge area” to “pixel area”. In some domains and situations, you need to make sure the magnitudes are carried over, and in others you need to rescale the values to a hard and fast scale so the ensuing charts are extra constant within the area and pixels they take up.

Within the Darkish Sky app, the “temperature drugs” representing the forecasted temperatures for the upcoming week protect their present magnitude extra successfully within the visualization. The temperature values are extra tightly built-in with the visible illustration, making the mixed expertise extra amenable to fast comparability throughout a number of days.

Many climate apps go for the design sample on the fitting, the place all temperature ranges are rescaled to take up the identical quantity of area within the app.

In the DarkSky weather app, the highs and lows were placed in bars that were relative to each other. In the Apple Weather app, the lows are aligned on the left side and the highs are aligned on the right side so the user has to read each temperature number for each day to know how it compares with other days

Changing numbers with tough classes

Decoding hourly distributions of rainfall or snowfall might be troublesome. Is 0.25 inches of rain so much over the subsequent hour? What about 0.2 inches of snow per hour for the subsequent hour, then 0.15 for the hour after that? How do I put together for these circumstances?

To assist customers keep knowledgeable and take motion, the app will typically substitute exact forecast distributions of rainfall and snowfall with tough classes as a substitute. This design selection has two constructive results on customers:

  • It contextualizes the forecast to less complicated classes that may assist us shortly make adjustments in our life if wanted.
    • Mild snow that begins and stops signifies that my snow shoveling firm received’t come out, however heavy snow means they probably will.
    • Heavy snow means I ought to in all probability be certain my out of doors furnishings is best lined and able to take the snow.
  • It removes a way of synthetic precision that doesn’t actually exist as a result of climate forecasts essentially have very excessive uncertainty and error bands.
Screenshots of snow and rain line charts, where the x-axis is time and the y-axis is a vague gauge of the precipitation. Instead of the precise values, the y-axis has "light," "medium," and "heavy" ranges.

Contextualized storm map

Easy colour scales mixed with arrows go a really lengthy approach to conveying related storm data.

Screenshots of different storm systems with colors that indicate the intensity of the storm, and directional arrows showing where the storm system is headed.

Wind path

As an alternative of conveying wind path utilizing textual content (“NW” or “Northwest”), the app makes use of arrows! If the wind shifts instructions all through the day, I can really feel the wind path altering utilizing my physique.

Screen shot of DarkSky app showing the wind speeds for each hour in a horizontal bar chart. At the end of each bar is a directional arrow.

Complaints from former Darkish Sky customers

As you’ll be able to inform, I might in all probability write an whole ebook concerning the design of Darkish Sky.

As an alternative, I need to share some passionate feedback from different Darkish Sky followers. Whereas most of them aren’t knowledge viz or design nerds, they really feel that the Apple Climate app shouldn’t be a adequate alternative. These individuals relied on Darkish Sky to make selections and grew very hooked up to an software that built-in deeply into their lives.

Listed below are some examples:

  • 0000GKP on Reddit: “I’ve already made the transition to the Climate app. The knowledge is introduced in a a lot much less environment friendly method than Darkish Sky so it takes extra effort to get it, however it’s all there (apart from cloud cowl).”
  • TheGeckoDude on Reddit: “Is there something that has the precipitation graph just like darkish sky? The most important factor I’ll miss from darkish sky is that graph. I’m exterior so much and it’s tremendous useful for figuring out when to take cowl or when it’d rain. I have to discover a characteristic like that as a result of the obscure climate precipitation data won’t lower it for me.”

Let’s make knowledge shine!

Darkish Sky began with publicly out there knowledge, augmented it with contextualized predictions, rigorously iterated on knowledge visualization design, and packaged all of this right into a contextualized expertise to make climate knowledge helpful for me in my each day life.

Whereas the provision of knowledge has by no means been larger, we’re nonetheless lacking software program experiences that contextualize that knowledge to make our lives higher. Information alone isn’t sufficient.

See Also

The world wants extra Darkish Sky-like experiences to assist us enhance our spending habits, assist us sleep higher, and extra. In case you’re engaged on data software program, I hope you might be impressed by the physique of design and engineering work that Darkish Sky pioneered.

Headshot of author Srini Kadamati

Srini Kadamati

Srini Kadamati at the moment helps construct higher knowledge administration instruments for biomedical analysis at Beforehand, he taught knowledge visualization and knowledge abilities at and

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