Developing outdoor map design guidelines using a real-world wayfinding task

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Virginia Tech


This exploratory study aims to elucidate the mental processes of wayfinding in an outdoor area and the effects of map contour representations, map color, individual differences of users (gender, brain dominance, experience level, and cultural differences), and environmental cues using a field study in an established trail network in Jefferson National Forest. Six maps with three different contour representations (contour lines, shaded relief, and schematic) and two color codes (color and black-and-white) were tested for wayfinding performance. Thirty-six participants of different nationalities (Locals versus Internationals), experience in map usage (experienced versus novice), handedness, and gender took part in the study. Three out of ten junctions on the test route had directional signs while the rest had no sign. The participants performed wayfinding tasks in a national forest trail park, using the think aloud and retrospective protocols to obtain the information processes used by the participants during wayfinding. Subjective feedback was also obtained to find out users' map preferences and opinions on their experience during the experiment.

Multiple regression analyses were used to predict the relationship of the predictor variables to wayfinding performance. It was found that cultural differences and signage presence were significant predictors of decision-making accuracy at trail junctions. The rest of the predictors were not significant in predicting total time of completion, time for decision-making at junction, accuracy of decision-making, and time deviated from route due to choosing a wrong path at junction. Cultural differences were also significant in the prediction of the time deviated from route.

It was also found that the participants were using maps to derived route information for wayfinding. They utilized structural matching of the map with the terrain, by orientation principle, to continuously check the current position on the map. There was some evidence of participants gaining survey knowledge from the map during wayfinding but this could not be confirmed by the study. A set of design guidelines were given for map and trail design to improve the wayfinding performance of recreational users.



Contour, Outdoors, Wayfinding, Schematic, Retrospective Protocols, Shaded Relief, Map, Blazers, Sign, Handedness, Individual Differences, Recreational Area