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The natural landscape metaphor in information visualization: the role of commonsense geomorphology


Fabrikant, Sara I; Montello, D R; Mark, D M (2010). The natural landscape metaphor in information visualization: the role of commonsense geomorphology. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61(2):253-270.

Abstract

The landscape metaphor was one of the first methods used by the information visualization community to reorganize and depict document archives that are not inherently spatial. The motivation for the use of the landscape metaphor is that everyone intuitively understands landscapes. We critically examine the information visualization designer’s ontologies for implementing spatialized landscapes with ontologies of the geographic domain held by lay people. In the second half of the article, we report on a qualitative study where we empirically assessed whether the landscape metaphor has explanatory power for users trying to make sense of spatialized views, and if so, in what ways. Specifically, we are interested in uncovering how lay people interpret hills and valleys in an information landscape, and whether their interpretation is congruent with the current scientific understanding of geomorphologic processes. Our empirical results suggest that neither developers’ nor lay users’ understanding of terrain visualizations is based on universal understanding of the true process that has shaped a natural landscape into hills and valleys, mountains, and canyons. Our findings also suggest that the information landscape metaphor for sense making of a document collection is not self-evident to lay users, as claimed by information landscape designers. While a deep understanding of geomorphology will probably not be required to successfully use an information landscape, we do suggest that a coherent theory on how people use space will be necessary to produce cognitively useful information
visualizations.

The landscape metaphor was one of the first methods used by the information visualization community to reorganize and depict document archives that are not inherently spatial. The motivation for the use of the landscape metaphor is that everyone intuitively understands landscapes. We critically examine the information visualization designer’s ontologies for implementing spatialized landscapes with ontologies of the geographic domain held by lay people. In the second half of the article, we report on a qualitative study where we empirically assessed whether the landscape metaphor has explanatory power for users trying to make sense of spatialized views, and if so, in what ways. Specifically, we are interested in uncovering how lay people interpret hills and valleys in an information landscape, and whether their interpretation is congruent with the current scientific understanding of geomorphologic processes. Our empirical results suggest that neither developers’ nor lay users’ understanding of terrain visualizations is based on universal understanding of the true process that has shaped a natural landscape into hills and valleys, mountains, and canyons. Our findings also suggest that the information landscape metaphor for sense making of a document collection is not self-evident to lay users, as claimed by information landscape designers. While a deep understanding of geomorphology will probably not be required to successfully use an information landscape, we do suggest that a coherent theory on how people use space will be necessary to produce cognitively useful information
visualizations.

Citations

9 citations in Web of Science®
18 citations in Scopus®
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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2010
Deposited On:11 Feb 2011 17:17
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 14:38
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell
ISSN:0002-8231
Publisher DOI:10.1002/asi.21227
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-43188

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