Qualitative symbology: an evaluation of the pictorial signs of the National Park Service as cartographic symbols

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


This study examines whether the use of pictorial signs as cartographic symbols are aids for map users in the comprehension of intended referent meaning. A history of the development and use of pictorial signs as cartographic symbols is traced from the origins of international highway signage to the Pictorial Sign/Symbol system of the National Park Service. The theoretical basis for examining qualitative symbolism in cartography is outlined as are the methodological evolution of the study and principles of symbol design. The NPS signs are tested in and out of a map environment to determine communication effectiveness. Results indicate that the NPS signs perform well as cartographic symbols for American college students and that map legends are used when provided. It is suggested that future testing of pictorial symbology might use semiotic and psychophysical research approaches to examine other coexisting symbol systems and discover more specific design principles for pictorial symbols.



United States