Here you’ll find an overview of the progress being made on the redesign of ATXfloods.com, a partnership between the Design, Technology, and Innovation (DTI) Fellows and the Flood Emergency Warning System (FEWS) here at the City of Austin. We’ll be outlining the research and design methods used by the Fellows, and key project outcomes.
We had some assumptions and baseline requirements heading into this project. We hope that by following our story, you’ll learn from the methods we used how we challenged and/or confirmed those assumptions though research and find this useful for any projects you wish to undertake.
Many residents know that the part of Texas that Austin is located in is known as Hill Country, but what they may not know is that it is also known as Flash Flood Alley. This is due to the area’s steep terrain, shallow soil, and unusually high rainfall rates.
Also due to the Texan nature of our rains, many creeks and streams lay dry more often than they are swollen with rain - and so Austin’s infrastructure uses something called a low-water crossing to provide bridges over these waterways. A low-water crossing is passable when dry, but during heavy rains they are designed to flood - and with water rushing over a low-water crossing, it is dangerous to pass by car, truck, or foot! (If you’re having trouble picturing it, the Austin American-Statesman has a great example.)
In 2012, a Code for America Fellow worked with the Watershed Protection Department to create a simple, lightweight mapping tool to show whether low-water crossings were open or closed. You can read more about that project here.
This site was so successful at communicating this information that it was quickly used by the public as well as television broadcasters. It grew in size, growing from a handful of crossings in the city of Austin to by 2017 covering thousands of datapoints in 15 different jurisdictions, including greater Travis County, Bastrop County, and Hays County. It also grew in scope, showing not just closed low-water crossings but also roadways that are not designed to flood, but frequently do.
In 2017, we find ATXfloods.com as victim of its own success, having outgrown the lightweight framework it was built on. With so many groups now using the information in this tool for key tasks, the team at the Flood Emergency Warning System recognized it was time for an update. Supported by a grant from the Texas Water Development Board, they approached the Innovation Office at the City of Austin with a request to improve the performance and usability of this now-important tool.
And that’s where our work begins!
This is a six month project with three main phases: (1) Research, Discovery, and Synthesis, (2) Feature Planning & Design, and (3) Iterative Development. The Fellows are responsible for planning the project, executing the project work, and delivering appropriate deliverables after each phase to Watershed Protection. More details on the scope can be found in the partnership agreement.
The project will run from February 2017 - August 2017. A detailed timeline can be found here. Note that because we practice iterative design, when and how we may be executing tasks is likely to shift to meet the project’s needs.
1. Research, Discovery, and Synthesis (2.5 months)
- Detailed findings
- Recommended features based on findings
2. Design and Planning (1 month)
- Wireframes to communicate information hierarchy
- Workflow diagrams for key tasks
- Visual design
- Usability testing to validate design
3. Iterative Development (2.5 months)
- Recommended technology stack
- Cloud server solutions
More details on the deliverables can be found in the partnership agreement.