Seaing clearly: Transforming Beachwatch to keep our swim sites safe - Journal | Strategic Design Consultancy | Folk


New work

Seaing clearly
Transforming Beachwatch to keep our swim sites safe

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The NSW Beachwatch daily pollution forecast program was launched in 1989 to address growing concerns about pollution on Sydney’s iconic beaches. Its mission ever since has been to monitor and report on water quality and inform effective stormwater and wastewater management. For us, their work means we can decide when and where to enjoy a safe swim or a surf.

In partnership with local councils and wastewater managers, the program has grown to cover more than 225 sites along the NSW coast, serving the general public, various governmental agencies, surf life savers, and researchers (and so on) well.

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Scale-ing up

In 2018, a comprehensive report highlighted a critical issue with the Beachwatch system – it had reached its limits in terms of scalability and efficiency.

Along with ensuring the site could expand over time to cover the entire NSW seaboard and inland swimming areas, the site needed a series of usability improvements including decluttering information, improving navigation, prioritising user-related display preferences, ensuring timely forecasting, improving data visualisation and exploring map interactivity.

Manual data entry and capture processes were also proving unsustainable, limiting the program's ongoing success. Improvements were needed to better capture externally provided data (e.g. from the Bureau of Meteorology) on daily rainfall, warnings, swimming site parameters, to lessen the risk of human error and reduce “double-handling”. There was a clear need to replace such manually intensive tasks with automatic, real-time date-stamped records.

To address these challenges, the NSW Government initiated a redevelopment project for the Beachwatch Website. The primary focus was on backend improvements, and efforts were made to modernise the user interface, particularly in the realm of spatial mapping.

Diving deep into the research

The redevelopment hinged off the extensive research with the users of Beachwatch, starting from in-depth consultations to understand current user experience and pain points through to developing a new information architecture and concept testing to provide the best usability.

The key audience groups uncovered from the consultations revealed differing needs. Regular swimmers wanted a quick overview of information on their preferred beach to glance across, highlighting relevant information such as tides and water temperature. Important to infrequent users were an interactive map, and information around amenities and patrol information, provided in a clear visual language. Researchers and councils needed credible and reliable data, delivered in a clear and accessible way.

From the outputs of our initial consultations we explored new features such as the interactive maps, favouriting of beach sites functionality, and iconography, and defined the hierarchy of information, especially concerning Daily Forecast, Weekly Rating, and Annual Grade.

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Impact of work

Leveraging the NSW Digital Design System (DDS), the design improvements and map interactions were co-designed and then tested with end users. The depth of research completed across the project helped us understand the foundations of what customers and stakeholders needed from the Beachwatch website, and the end result has been transformative. 

The program now boasts a more streamlined and user-friendly interface, and by using spacial display as the centrepiece of the website, users are immediately presented with a single spacial map. The map ensures that beachgoers and swimmers can quickly locate their preferred swim site and access vital pollution forecasts with ease, all helping them to make informed decisions about where is safest to swim. They also have the ability to favourite their preferred locations, or interact with the map to compare conditions across similar or nearby sites.

The journey from an outdated, manually intensive system to a modern, user-centric platform has revitalised the NSW Beachwatch program. It now ensures that beach goers, swimmers and the general public can continue to enjoy the NSW beautiful coastline with confidence and safety, and the Beachwatch team can focus on monitoring, driving advocacy and adoption, working with council partnerships and delivering the next generation of Beachwatch.

You can experience the refreshed Beachwatch website here.

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Written by:
Laurence Publico,
Product Designer