Eye Tracking: Maps

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Something that I think would be interesting to study with eye tracking is a map. For example, this photo is of a campus map that is displayed on a sign at RIT.

I think eye tracking would be useful in studying maps because it would be helpful in making sure that maps are serving their intended purpose of helping people navigate a location. Maps can be very confusing and overwhelming at times, especially if the maps are crowded with many things. Often when using maps, people are trying to go somewhere quickly, and can’t afford to look around for a long time before comprehending the map. A person viewing the map is likely to glance at numerous different spots on the map and fixate on them in different ways before finally locating where they are and understanding how to get where they are going.

Eye tracking would work well in this case because it could help determine how people actually view the maps so that maps could be made to better fit the needs of the users. For example, eye tracking could help determine what effect the colors of the map have on the user. In this map, buildings are black, fields are green, and parking lots are white. It would be interesting to see which colors drew people’s eyes first so that the most important features of the map could be illustrated in those colors. Another example, which is applicable for stationary maps only, would be studying the way people find the “You are here” marker on the map. On this map it is relatively small and doesn’t stand out as much as it could. Eye tracking would help determine where people look and how long they take to find this marker, so that it could be determined if it needed to be made more obvious. Additionally, the way people view the text on the map could also be studied. It could be determined whether it is more efficient for viewers to find full labels on the crowded map, or to read abbreviations on the map and then move their eyes to a key at the bottom like on this map.

I would organize the study by having people look at multiple different maps which had the variations discussed above. The people would be asked to locate certain locations on the map and then their path of eye fixations would be recorded so it could be seen how easily and quickly they were able to find what they were looking for, and also if they got distracted by other elements on the map. If the study were to have multiple methods, another method could be to ask people their personal opinion of whether the map was easy to use or not. Their opinions could be compared and contrasted with the eye tracking results.

I would hope to discover which styles and choices made when making a map would help the map become easier for people to use, so that other maps could be more usable. The main challenge of the study would be that people may have very different ways of viewing the map, and the changes that would make it easy for some people to understand the map may not be the same as for other people.

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2 thoughts on “Eye Tracking: Maps

  1. Jordan this is a very well thought out example for where studying eye-tracking while people interact with new maps could potentially lead to great information and improvements. I like how you go into detail with the RIT map, the general key (black=buildings, white=parking lots, and green=fields), and even as far as the “you are here” marker. I do agree that maps are fading away as people far too quickly become frustrated with them and go to their smartphone apps that gives them walking, driving, or public transportation directions. Eye-tracking could yield information on how long it takes people to look around the map, how long it takes them to figure it out, or get frustrated and give up. This would give companies the information they need to better the standard for map making and correct the areas that are causing peoples eyes to get lost.

    However, I do think that maps are already made to a standard to allow users to pick up almost any map and be able to navigate with it. (Talking in general about actual road maps/world maps). I think the majority of people’s frustrations are a product of them not taking the time to learn how to read a map, or understand North, South, East and West, and how to find them in real life and on the map. Missing those key concepts that were taught back in grade school (and most likely ignored) will cause frustrations no matter how much eye tracking data is collected and improvements are made.

  2. Eye tracking for maps is such a different purpose from what the article discussed, mostly because the viewer observes the map for a specific purpose rather than an ad banner which is meant to drive the viewer away from their initial goals to click on it. You’re discussion about making maps more readable is very practical. More thought could be put into the thought process of a person reading a map, allowing the track of start to destination of the eye to flow more smoothly.

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