“Prototyping brings our ideas to life”: Q&A with BBC Weather


Creative Director Yael Levey talks the benefits of prototyping in your design process, finding the perfect design sprint and creating an app for a global audience

Justinmind sat down with Creative Director of BBC Weather Yael Levy to talk all things UX. Yael heads a team of innovative UX designers who work on one of the world’s most popular weather services. In our illuminating Q&A, Yael shares her thoughts on creative confidence, how to nurture your talent and believe in yourself – something us designers need to do more often.

Not only that but we find out about the rigorous prototyping process undertaken at BBC Weather, what UX challenges they face and just who is the audience for the world’s most recognizable weather service? Read on and let’s find out.

Hi Yael! To start, could you explain a little about who you are and your areas of expertise?

I’m Yael Levey, currently Creative Director of BBC Weather, leading our design team (UX designers, visual designers, information architects and design researchers) to create world class user experiences for our millions of Weather users around the world.

Outside of my day job, I also have a blog (I am not my pixels) where I like to share my thoughts and experiences around UX and design, particularly about my working practices, creative confidence and how to make it as a UX designer.

My background was originally in psychology. I did an MSc that included work in Human/Computer interaction, and came into UX design with very much a psychological lens.

Earlier on in my career I was really focused on user experience design, working in usability, information architecture, interaction design and design research, but as I’ve progressed through my career I’ve realized how much I enjoy working on other aspects of the user experience of digital products, like visual design, motion, even sound.

You write and talk about creative confidence – could you explain briefly what that means to our readers?

Creative confidence is such an important topic in our field. In creative professions, if we don’t feel self-assured in our work, if we don’t feel that we really know what we are doing, it can have a real knock-on impact on the quality of our work as well as how we approach discussing our work with other people.

It’s also very easy to not feel confident in our work as we are surrounded all the time by other designers who can seem to be supremely confident in their work (although we can’t tell what’s going on inside!).

For me, I feel a real responsibility to talk about creative confidence. Not only have I struggled with my own creative confidence in the past (and still do!), but I speak to many designers every week who also struggle with confidence in their work.

My colleague Dan Ramsden has written more about this recently and I love how much more vocal people are in general getting about this topic nowadays compared to in the past.

Our readers may not know that there’s a creative UX team behind BBC Weather. Can you explain more about the design process at BBC Weather and what makes it different from competitors?

BBC Weather is a brilliant product to work on. My team works with some really interesting challenges:

  • We design with lots of data that is changing all the time but still needs to be super clear
  • We work not just in the digital sphere but also with our colleagues designing BBC Weather for TV – making cohesive and consistent experiences for our users no matter the platform is a real challenge
  • We spend a lot of time thinking about how to be distinctive – weather apps, websites and services are everywhere. 
  • We have dual challenges around how we work with others. First, how do our design team do their best work with our developers, product managers and all the other people who go into making BBC Weather. Secondly, how do we collaborate with the other UX and design teams at the BBC to ensure that our digital experiences are consistent across the entire digital estate. Whether you visit BBC Weather or BBC News, there needs to be common design patterns and foundations that ensure our users feel at home. That’s why we work very hard at maintaining our Global Experience Language
  • How do we make weather for everyone? It is really important to us to design inclusively, and for a wide range of needs and goals. There are a lot of exciting challenges around how we present weather information in an accessible way and to meet people’s diverse Weather needs, whether that is “just tell me if it’s going to be raining later” to “I’d like to know precise information about the wind speed and direction every hour”.

“How do we compete when every phone now comes loaded with a native weather app? Or when Facebook shows you weather information when you log in? What can we do to be the premier destination for people to come to for weather information?”

In terms of our design process, we are very research focused – we work hard at not only gathering research about people’s weather needs, behaviors and habits, but we also do a lot of rapid testing of wireframes and prototypes as we work towards high-fidelity designs.

We’ve experimented with various forms of design sprints and have found them to be very successful at engaging our wider stakeholders and generating ideas quickly. We also work incredibly closely with our development team on work that is in build and the team can often be found ‘pairing’ with developers working on things in browser.

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How do you like to organize your team and what does an average day look like for you?

My time usually breaks down to about:

  • 25% working with my direct team – whether that’s design critiques or reviews, 1-1s, team meetings, or just helping them unblock problems.
  • 25% working with stakeholders – presenting work, getting buy-in, influencing and persuading.
  • 25% working on things together with the rest of our creative leadership team – team-wide culture, design alignment and consistency across the BBC estate, thinking about how we can make our design team the absolute best it can be.
  • 25% on planning and strategy for Weather.

Outside of my day job, I spent a fair chunk of time on my mission to help as many as people as possible get a real idea of what it’s like to be a working UX designer, so I spend a lot of time on activities that support this goal: blogging, making videos, and posts for social media.

Can you tell us where prototyping fits into the design and development process at BBC Weather?

Prototyping has a number of purposes for us:

  1. It helps to bring our ideas to life and allows us to experiment with interactions, motion and journeys
  2. It helps demonstrate our thinking in a very visual and interactive way to our stakeholders
  3. It allows us to easily test interactive designs with our users

How we prototype often depends on what stage we are at in the design process. We utilize prototyping tools mostly when we want to demonstrate something quickly at earlier stages, and we also prototype in code when it’s important to demonstrate what the capabilities of the design would be in real life.

Could you give us an example of when prototyping solved a tricky design problem that your team worked on?

How information loads up in the Weather app was a detail that we spent some time focusing on through prototyping.

Because there are so many pieces of information that display on our Weather app, we wanted to experiment with playing with the sequence of how the information loads to see whether we could get people to focus on the absolute key bits of information first.

We prototyped a number of different ways that we could sequence and load in the information which helped us really hone in on what felt best and what worked best. We were able to both put our hypotheses in front of our users but also easily demonstrate to stakeholders what we were imagining.

I can imagine there isn’t an average user when it comes to the weather – perhaps it’s more of an attitude. How do you design for your audience? 

We design for an incredibly wide audience. We’ve done a lot of ethnographic research in the UK, travelling up and down the country talking to people who live in very different places – urban, rural, by the sea, in the countryside – as well as people at all different life stages, and with very different types of jobs, responsibilities and accessibility requirements.

The most interesting thing was that we had a lot of hypotheses about how your weather needs might change based on, for example, the environment in which you lived or how much you worked outside.

What we found was that none of that really mattered. People’s underlying weather needs and goals didn’t change. What did matter was how they needed information presented.

To make sure that our research was able to brought into our actual design practices, we distilled it all down to create a set of 6 personas that represent different weather needs across our wide audience. We use our personas in workshops, critiques and when we’re designing to make sure our audience is front of mind. We’ve even got persona stickers for role playing as our personas in workshops. 

Steven Douglas
Steven is the web editor at Justinmind