Effects of visual map complexity on the attentional processing of landmarks
In the era of smartphones, route-planning and navigation is supported by freely and globally available web mapping services, such as OpenStreetMap or Google Maps. These services provide digital maps, as well as route planning functions that visually highlight the suggested route in the map. Additionally, such digital maps contain landmark pictograms, i.e. representations of salient objects in the environment. These landmark representations are, amongst other reference points, relevant for orientation, route memory, and the formation of a cognitive map of the environment. The amount of visible landmarks in maps used for navigation and route planning depends on the width of the displayed margin areas around the route. The amount of further reference points is based on the visual complexity of the map. This raises the question how factors like the distance of landmark representations to the route and visual map complexity determine the relevance of specific landmarks for memorizing a route. In order to answer this question, two experiments that investigated the relation between eye fixation patterns on landmark representations, landmark positions, route memory and visual map complexity were carried out. The results indicate that the attentional processing of landmark representations gradually decreases with an increasing distance to the route, decision points and potential decision points. Furthermore, this relation was found to be affected by the visual complexity of the map. In maps with low visual complexity, landmark representations further away from the route are fixated. However, route memory was not found to be affected by visual complexity of the map. We argue that map users might require a certain amount of reference points to form spatial relations as a foundation for a mental representation of space. As maps with low visual complexity offer less reference points, people need to scan a wider area. Therefore, visual complexity of the area displayed in a map should be considered in navigation-oriented map design by increasing displayed margins around the route in maps with a low visual complexity. In order to verify our assumption that the amount of reference points not only affects visual attention processes, but also the formation of a mental representation of space, additional research is required.