Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Map Design Evaluation for Mobile Display

Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Map Design Evaluation for Mobile Display

Article excerpt


Understanding how users interact with digital maps on handheld devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and cell phones is critical for creating effective maps for mobile computing. Digital map displays allow users to zoom in and out, to add or remove data layers, to change the appearance of the display, and, with geographic information systems (GIS), even to modify the dataset itself. New capabilities resulting from mobility--which range from the ability to interact with data to taking complex datasets into the field--give greater flexibility to maps and mapmakers. How people use these capabilities while actually engaged in mobile activities, whether as a sightseeing tourist or data-collecting researcher, needs to be understood in order to inform map design for these devices.

This research reports on a study that examined subjects' performance during an on-foot navigation task with a handheld computer. Subjects followed routes marked on maps at two different levels of generalization, an aerial photograph and a classified, simplified version of the aerial photo. One focus of the experiment was to evaluate the level of map generalization with regard to three dependent variables: time to route completion, amount of map browsing, and accuracy in following the route. A second focus considered subjects' spatial abilities, familiarity with the study area, and experience with maps and mobile technology. Examining these factors with subjects' performance begins to address questions regarding user behavior with maps on handheld devices. How does a person's spatial ability influence how he or she interacts with a map? Are there consistencies in the types and amounts of errors that people make, and how is error related to individual differences? There are a variety of factors that affect how a mobile map is used, as well as a large variation in the way individuals interact with a digital map on a handheld device.

The methodology and results from this study inform other contextual frameworks by assessing patterns of behavior with subjects of different spatial abilities and experience using maps of varying representation in a controlled experiment. The results are specific to the type of environment of the study area and the activity of route-following, and would likely be different if the experiment were replicated in a different type of area, such as a downtown city center or a forest, with a different sized study area, and if subjects were finding their way to a destination point rather than following a given route. Systematically considering maps in a variety of contexts is a necessary step towards a more complete understanding of how people interact with maps while mobile. This knowledge will inform generalization techniques, such as in determining just what level of detail is necessary, or to what extent features can be aggregated or simplified to fit on the display and still be useful.

Related Research

This study complements continuing research on spatial information delivery for mobile devices, and it is unique in considering controlled variations of map generalization in a field-based task with a digital map. It is intended as the first of a series of studies to systematically test carefully controlled variations of representations to determine what makes effective mobile cartography, and why.

Dynamic, digital maps are key applications for mobile devices, especially for providing navigation assistance to non-expert users, or assisting scientists and others who work with spatial data in the field. A recent special issue of Cartography and Geographic Information Science dedicated to mobile mapping and GIS identified a research agenda for mobile GIS, encompassing the areas of infrastructure, data, and user issues (Clarke 2004). A major research area in this agenda is navigation assistance and location-based services. Prototype navigation aids, both handheld and wearable varieties, continue to be developed and tested. …

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