Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

User Aspects of Adaptive Visualization for Mobile Maps

Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

User Aspects of Adaptive Visualization for Mobile Maps

Article excerpt


Every map is a presentation of aspects of its time, not only trends in the arts and scientific thinking but also the available technology. However, whatever the period, the central question in map reading has always been how the map is perceived and understood by the map reader, i.e., the user. The challenge for the cartographer is to ensure that everyone reading the map understands it in the way it was meant to be understood. The final result depends not only on the skill of the cartographer but also on the map reader's ability to understand the map. This user may not understand the cartographic visualization of the map, the meaning of the symbols, or the purpose of the map's content. Every time there is a disconnection in the communication between the map and the map user, the user has to look at the map legend and try to work out the meaning of the symbol. This causes an interruption in the map reading process and, if it happens repeatedly, may have frustrating effects on the use of the map and result in misinterpretations.

Technical developments have provided many new tools and techniques to visualize the geographic reality. One of the research topics emerging recently has been applications based on ubiquitous computing (Gartner 2005). Computers and sensors embedded in the environment can, for example, supply direct wireless information to interactive mobile hand-held devices. This faces map design with new challenges and opportunities, and applications must consequently be carefully designed to meet the diverse needs of users and use situations. The main design challenge is the small size of the display and the fact that the maps are used on the move. These circumstances should require the map visualization to be radically different from static maps used indoors on office desktops. Indeed, the adaptability and flexibility of mobile map services allow for some interesting additions to the range of design parameters--for example, a map's adaptability to the location and other mobile context parameters such as the time, activity, and preferences of the user (Sarjakoski and Nivala 2005).

Objectives of the Study

The objective of this study is to review the characteristics of cartographic design for mobile maps and to describe evaluation of the cartographic design of adaptive maps delivered from a map service to support different users in varying mobile use contexts. The research was part of the Geospatial Info-mobility Service by Real-time Data-integration and Generalization (GiMoDig) project, funded by the European Union's Information Society Technologies program (Sarjakoski and Sarjakoski 2005; GiMoDig 2001). The goal of this project was to build a map service prototype for delivering topographic data from the national mapping agencies in real-time to mobile users. The map service was implemented and evaluated following user-centered methods. This paper describes user aspects of the adaptive visualization for maps considered as part of the project.

Mobile Map Design

Map design consists of choices made by the cartographer, i.e., the graphic variables used for symbols and the visualization method (Kraak and Ormeling 2003). The underlying principles of graphic communication are critical to the good overall visual layout of a map. Cartographers have long been aware of the need to understand the effects of their desi-gn decisions on the minds of map users. Montello (2002; p. 283), for instance, states that "the recognition that map design is about the design of human cognition might be termed intuitive map psychology" and he goes on to say that, in realizing this, 20th century cartographers began to understand that intuitions about map cognition could be developed more systematically by applying sciences and theories related to psychology.

The Map-reading Process

Robinson (1952) emphasized that the function of maps is to communicate with people; the message is dependent on the visual appearance of the map, and this in turn depends on the design decisions made by the cartographers. …

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