Here at Rhizome, creativity runs through our veins. One of the most fulfilling feelings for us is being able to craft digital experiences for our clients that are not only visually inspiring, but functionally seamless.
In October 2020, we embarked on a journey with the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency (SRCAA) to redesign their website. As a government agency that has been working for over 50 years to improve air quality throughout Spokane County, SRCAA’s purpose perfectly aligned with our focus as a creative studio that works for organizations making a positive difference in their communities and for the environment.
Move the slider for a before and after view.
A Unique Client
Through our research, we discovered that SRCAA’s existing website was full of fantastic content and information, but a combination of disjointed content organization and the lack of search functionality meant that visitors were regularly calling the agency directly for help in finding information and documents on their website. Going forward, we understood that we needed to deliver a product that was intuitive to use and exuded our core value of “Make It Easy” in order to reduce the number of phone calls fielded by SRCAA’s staff.
While the Spokane Clean Air Agency’s website served as an important hub of atmospheric information, the biggest draw to their site was an Air Quality page that greeted visitors with a graphic about current Burning Restrictions along with hourly-updated Air Quality Index (AQI) values pulled from AirNow.gov. In addition, SRCAA provided a page with a clickable map that displayed current predominant pollutant measured at seven different monitoring sites spread across Spokane County.
During the ever worsening and unpredictable wildfire season, these pages were vital resources for county residents that wanted to know if the air outside was safe for them to breathe, but untimely data updates and ambiguous error messages plagued their effectiveness.
With over two million unique visitors to the air quality resources during fire season, we recognized their importance and made it our mission to deliver all air quality information in a way that was simple, informative, beautiful, and accessible.
Color: Constraint or Creative Opportunity?
So, how did we do it? Our initial plan seemed straightforward: since SRCAA pulled their air quality data from AirNow, we were to utilize an existing widget provided by AirNow to display AQI data and forecasts on SRCAA’s website. While the widgets were easy to implement and informative, we soon discovered that they suffered from a huge shortcoming. The widgets were not ADA-accessible to those that may be visually impaired due to a lack of contrast between the colors that they used.
As a result, we found ourselves faced with a major challenge and moral decision: do we sacrifice convenience, or accessibility? At Rhizome, one of our core values is that we “Navigate with a strong Moral Compass”. This means that when the perfect answer doesn’t exist, we take it upon ourselves to flex our creative muscle and build a solution that works for everyone. So, that’s what we did!
Color Study 1:
1st color study attempt while accessible, did not yield the contrast we were looking for and the brown colors for yellow were just not working for us.
Color Study – Final Version:
The final design turned out to be much cleaner and easier to read, and utilized Air Now’s fluorescent-like colors.
Extensive study to detemine, color, widths, and text wrapping for various responsive modes.
Through our proven iterative design process, we worked hand-in-hand with the SRCAA team, performing multiple color-studies to design and develop our own custom AQI widget that is visually appealing, incorporates AirNow’s official fluorescent colors while ensuring that the widget is still ADA-accessible to all, and is easy to manage by staff. In addition, we redesigned the clickable map of Monitoring Stations and its interface and placed it on the same page so all air quality information now lives in one easy-to-access space.
A Modern Site for a Modern World
Visitors to the new Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency’s website are immediately greeted with a stunning and dynamic homepage that now offers easy access to the Current Air Quality, Forecast, and Burn Restrictions without having to scroll or click. Navigation has been reworked and improved, with the addition of search functionality, and all forms, info, and resource documents live in one easy-to-access source.
Furthermore, one of the most redeeming qualities about the new SRCAA website is that we built it using the latest tools at our disposal. By taking advantage of the Gutenberg editor in WordPress, Rhizome was able to create a custom theme that is carried throughout the site, design custom blocks to organize and display content in new ways, and deliver a truly satisfying back-end experience for the SRCAA staff.
A Breath of Fresh Air
Sometimes, the easiest route isn’t always the best route. For us, this project serves as a wonderful example of the possibilities that can exist when you are faced with tough constraints and challenges but choose to view them through the lens of opportunity instead. At Rhizome, we know that no project is the same and that’s why we embrace knowledge and stick to our core value of Be Curious. By doing so, we were able to explore new paths give a breath of fresh air to the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency and the vast community it serves by crafting a website that Makes Air Quality Beautifully Accessible.
Many thanks to Patty O’Hara our lead developer on this project, Jen Pennington-UX Design, Robert Packer our PM, James McGrath, web development assistance, Kym Miller for production assistance and Ozzie Baron for UX Research. Many thanks to our clients at SRCAA for their incredible work, organizing their content.