Click image to link to site (Wikipedia, 2011).
Rough Draft Updated Graphic
Final Updated Graphic
In searching for a poor explanation graphic I stumbled upon Wikipedia’s visualization of Lake-effect snow. Wikipedia’s page has plenty of information in its article relating to Lake-effect snow, but this illustration is the one that they chose to include as a way to explain the phenomenon. Focusing on the image by itself, there is very little information portrayed in this graphic. The image essentially shows clouds passing over water and dropping snow; it gives absolutely no explanation of temperature differences, and an ignorant user may think snow could happen anytime clouds cross lakes. The caption of, “Lake-effect snow is produced as cold winds blow clouds over warm waters,” helps the image make more sense, but it still does not provide a lot of information about the effect (Wikipedia, 2011). Finding this image away from Wikipedia (I originally located it during a Google image search), this graphic is practically useless unless you have an idea of what the graphic is describing. In its context on Wikipedia this image and its caption are supplementary to each other, but they are very close to being complementary. Without the text telling the user that the image is describing Lake-effect snow, it would be very difficult,but possible, to comprehend the image; but without the image the user could get the general idea of Lake-effect snow (hence the two being supplementary rather than complementary).
In my recreation of the image, I hoped to add a little more detail so that the graphic would not require an additional caption to be understood. The image is intended for an audience that is specifically seeking to understand Lake-effect snow without reading an entire article about it. My graphic provides the very basic concept of Lake-effect snow, but also goes one step forward in providing some of the more technical details such as the temperature differences, and the effects of distance traveled over water.
Beginning with the very bare bones of Lake-effect snow, I wanted to be sure to improve upon the original graphic. The original explanation graphic completely neglects that Lake-effect snow starts with cold air moving in over the water prior to clouds forming. I made sure to include the cold air coming in, and attempted to signify the air being cold by using the deep blue color. I also wanted to show the clouds forming and growing larger as more moisture is absorbed into the air, simply because that has a big effect on whether it will snow or not. My hope was that if the text was removed from my graphic the image could still be understood much easier than the original. In visualizing this image without text, I believe it would be much easier to comprehend than the current one, but it would certainly be much less meaningful. This may be due in part to the fact that images are limited in the amount of abstraction that they can convey (Oberlander & Stenning, 1997). Since I was attempting to add additional detail to this graphic, text was a necessity in my design process.
The text that I included in this image was primarily to explain some of the more technical details of Lake-effect snow. I included information such as air must travel at least 100km over water to produce any sort of Lake-effect precipitation, temperature instability typically only occurs at a minimum of 1.5km, and that the farther air travels over water the more snow will be produced (Wikipedia, 2011; Geerts, 1998). I could not think of any way to show this information without text, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The other use of text was in a redundant way to further explain the images. I did this to help both comprehension and retention for viewers. When text is used in a purely redundant manner it is easier to store in memory, which applies to this graphic in terms of understanding the very basics discussed above (O’Connell, 2011b). However, when focusing on explaining the more technical aspects of Lake-effect snow, text and images are used in a supplementary way to help users to more fully comprehend the information presented (Thomas, 2010). I would expect a user of this graphic to remember that Lake-effect snow is caused by cold air moving across warmer water, but I would not expect them to remember the specific details relating to temperature, height, and distance.
I would say the one major problem that I had in creating this graphic was deciding how to portray the most information possible in the easiest way possible. I was essentially attempting to meet Tufte’s principles of graphical excellence in creating a graphic that presents the most information possible, in the smallest space, using the least amount of ink (O’Connell, 2011a). I wanted to include as much technical information as possible without weighing down the graphic with bunches of text. My “Aha” moment of sorts was to arrange the image into a graph-like layout. I have the vertical axis showing the height of the air over water that the Lake-effect snow process begins at, and the horizontal axis showing the distance the air is traveling and the amount of potential snow produced. If I had more time and resources I would have tried to include even more detail relating to the Lake-effect process, but that likely would have required big blocks of text. I would have needed to break the process into steps, but then I would need to decide what details belong in what step. I also would have included the title “Lake-effect snow” if I had more space; otherwise without this image appearing on another webpage it may not make sense. Overall, I am satisfied with the amount of information I was able to present using the one flowing image and a limited amount of text.
Geerts, B. (1998, December). Lake-effect snow. Retrieved from http://www- das.uwyo.edu/~geerts/cwx/notes/chap10/lake_effect_snow.html
Oberlander, J., Stenning, K. (1997). A cognitive theory of graphical and linguistic reasoning: Logic and implementation. . Cognitive Science, Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.35.4190&rep=rep1&type=pdf
O’Connell, R. (2011a, October). Designing of information. PowerPoint presented during class on the 27th of October 2011.
O’Connell, R. (2011b, October). Information Graphics. PowerPoint presented during class on the 27th of October 2011.
Thomas, N. (2010). Mental imagery. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2010, Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-imagery/theories-memory.html
Wikipedia. (2011, October 25). Lake-effect snow. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake-effect_snow