Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Geospatial Information Visualization User Interface Issues

Academic journal article Cartography and Geographic Information Science

Geospatial Information Visualization User Interface Issues

Article excerpt


"What makes a technology interactive? Is radio interactive? Television? What about books, lectures, conference sessions? Is interactive multimedia really interactive? A TECHNOLOGY is not in itself interactive-- it is the INTERFACE we design for it that is interactive." (Wills 1996, p. 187)

Technological changes involving both cartography and computer graphics have made modern cartographic representation different in both quantitative and qualitative ways. Quantitatively, a wider range of different cartographic products can be made faster and less expensively, and, qualitatively, interaction with visual displays in almost real-time is now possible. This has moved the emphasis from static to dynamic map use (Taylor 1994) and thus introduced new requirements for the design of representation artifacts and interfaces to those artifacts. Using representations requires the availability of interfaces that work, and ones that work with different "representation machines" and with different users. The challenge is to provide flexible access to increasingly powerful geospatial (and related) representation software.

Complementary papers in this volume detail new forms of geospatial representation and address cognitive/usability issues in geovisualization (from both a cognitive theory and usability engineering perspective). This paper focuses on the future research needs for human-computer interaction between human users and one or more cartographic/geospatial representations. It explores the recent technological developments and perceived needs of geospatial information users and develops an international, interdisciplinary research agenda directed to designing innovative user interfaces for spatial representation.

The starting point for the research agenda presented here was a set of initial "Interface Design'" priorities identified by members of the ICA Commission on Visualization and Virtual Environments: a typology of visualization operations; controls for operations; facilitating information access in complex hyperlinked information archives; intelligent `GeoAgents'; and collaborative visualizations (MacEachren 2000). Starting from these suggestions, the authors of this paper, reorganized, refocused, and extended the original outline, as will become clear below.

The next section of the paper discusses three general themes and issues related to interfaces and explores the possible questions within each that require investigation. The themes are: interfaces and representations of geography, navigation, and universal access. Sections that follow outline the state of the art on which we can build and identify specific research challenges. A summary of the primary research challenges is provided, and brief conclusions are made.

Themes and Issues

The interface design process is essential to developing interaction tools and techniques for using geospatial visualization tools effectively. Here, we outline the themes and issues that provide a context for subsequent discussion of research challenges. First, the general concepts of interfaces and their use for interacting with representations of geography are addressed. Second, we explore navigation, access and manipulation, which together constitute an important theme with respect to the design of interaction. This theme includes the design of metaphors and access routines, manipulation tools and techniques as well as navigation. Third, the importance of universal (particularly international) access is discussed, with international Internet standards efforts seen as a key factor here. And, finally, the practical implementation of interfaces using new technologies is addressed. Our approach to geovisualization interface themes and issues emphasizes design and, thus, is complemented by perspectives on cognitive/usability issues discussed by Slocum et al. elsewhere in this issue.

Interfaces and Representations of Geography

What are the differences between "normal" visualization interfaces and geospatial visualization interfaces? …

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