Design trainee takes users on voyage to the bottom of the sea

Fancy taking a voyage to deepest parts of the world’s oceans without getting wet?

It’s easier than you might think thanks to an interactive graphic on the BBC News website which condenses 11,000km of water into one web page and takes users to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean with the spin of a mouse wheel.

A key member of the motley crew who put the graphic together was Charlotte Thornton, a BBC Interactive Design trainee who is currently halfway through the year-long scheme. She spent the second of her four placements in London with the BBC News Specials design team which makes graphics and interactive diagrams for the News website.

"Everyday I’d read the morning paper on the way in and try to guess what I’d be working on"– Charlotte Thornton, interactive design trainee

It was here that the brief to design an interactive representation of the Mariana Trench came in, after a succession of explorers made the news by announcing their intention to get to the bottom of this remote spot.

“News wanted a long graphic to show what was in the trench,” explains Charlotte. “We had lots of brainstorms to decide how to do it. When I hit upon the idea of the little bar that travels down with you, everyone liked that and we decided to incorporate it in the design, alongside other people's ideas.”

Their efforts certainly paid off: the ‘Race to the Bottom of the Sea’ project as a whole has had over 3 million views so far and generated some very admiring comments on Twitter. Mark Bryson, senior designer at News UX&D, comments that Charlotte created “a very successful design” for the Ocean Trench graphic which used “the vertical scrolling of a browser to engage the audience and allow them to discover all our great content as they scroll to the deepest place on earth (5,782 pixels)”.

But this more long-term project wasn’t the digital arts and technology graduate’s only job at News Specials. Thanks to the busy news environment, each day could bring a different story to tackle, resulting in the production of everything from infographics of cars to interactive maps of London.

It meant a level of unpredictability perhaps unusual in many design roles - one which Charlotte apparently relished: “It was the first time I worked in the news environment, and I loved the immediacy of it. Everyday I’d read the morning paper on the way in and try to guess what I’d be working on.”

As well as her time at News Specials, Charlotte has helped to implement a redesign of the World Service’s Somali site and is now embedded in the design department of the iPlayer team. Not bad for someone who only graduated last year. And there’s more to come in the form of a fourth placement which is yet to be finalised but could be anywhere across the UK.

It’ll have to be good to top the thrill of seeing her work go live on a website with around 14 million global readers every month - even if she was in a training session at the time.

“I finally checked my emails and I had about 20 saying how good it was,” she laughs. “It was a great feeling - my first big project where I had a lot of creative input.”

For more on the BBC Design Trainee Scheme click here.