Interacting with Maps: The science and practice of cartographic interaction

Open Access
Roth, Robert Emmett
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 22, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Dr Alan M Mac Eachren, Dissertation Advisor
  • Alan Maceachren, Committee Chair
  • Cynthia Ann Brewer, Committee Member
  • Alexander Klippel, Committee Member
  • Eugene Joseph Lengerich, Committee Member
  • interaction strategies
  • Cartography
  • Human-Computer Interaction interaction primitives
  • Geovisualization
  • cartographic interaction
  • Geovisual Analytics
  • operands
  • interactive maps
  • cartographic interfaces
  • operators
  • objectives
The current pace of innovation in interactive and web-based mapping is spectacular, and the possibility and pervasiveness of interactivity has transformed the way in which many maps are produced and consumed. Despite this remarkable pace—or perhaps because of it—there have been relatively few efforts to understand how interactive maps should be designed and used. This research directly contributes to this gap, treating the topic of cartographic interaction as a complement to cartographic representation, the traditional topic of inquiry within the field of Cartography. Cartographic interaction is described as the dialogue between a human and a map mediated through a computing device. The dissertation seeks to establish a science of cartographic interaction by accomplishing three research goals. The first research goal of the dissertation is to identify and explore the questions that need to be addressed by a science of cartographic interaction and then to review and synthesize the current state of understanding regarding these questions. Secondary sources from Cartography and related fields were reviewed to understand the current state of science regarding cartographic interaction. This review revealed a framework comprising six questions that a science of cartographic interaction must address: (1) what?, (2) why?, (3) when?, (4) who?, (5) where?, and (6) how? The background review on the sixth how? question also yielded a new way of conceptualizing and organizing existing taxonomies of cartographic interaction primitives—or the basic building blocks that altogether constitute an interaction strategy—based on the stage of interaction. Following the background review, a set of interviews then was completed with 21 participants who use cartographic interaction to support their daily work. The interview study captured the current state of practice on cartographic interaction across a number of application domains, generating additional insights into the six questions on cartographic interaction. The second research goal is to address the important how? question by developing a taxonomy of cartographic interaction primitives that is empirically derived. To this end, a pair of card sorting studies were administered with 15 participants who design and develop cartographic interfaces. The pair of studies required each participant to sort a universe of statements, drawn from the reviews on cartographic science and practice, that represented either the objective or operator stage of interaction. The resulting taxonomy of cartographic interaction primitives includes four dimensions, each aligning with a different stage of interaction: (1) goals (procure, predict, and prescribe), (2) operands (space-alone, attributes-in-space, and space-in-time), (3) objectives (identify, compare, rank, associate, and delineate), and (4) operators (enabling operators: import, export, save, edit, and annotate; work operators: reexpress, arrange, sequence, resymbolize, overlay, reproject, pan, zoom, filter, search, retrieve, and calculate). Finally, the third and final research goal is to identify prototypically successful and unsuccessful cartographic interaction strategies with a single cartographic interface, initializing a research program for developing a syntactics of cartographic interaction primitives. To this end, a cartographic interface—referred to as GeoVISTA CrimeViz—was used as a 'living laboratory' for generating initial insight into the interaction primitive taxonomy. Ten law enforcement personnel from the Harrisburg Bureau of Police completed fifteen user tasks with GeoVISTA CrimeViz that are representative of the objective and operand pairings listed in the taxonomy of cartographic interaction primitives. Analysis of the interaction logs by operator allowed for generation of several insights into the syntactics of interaction primitives as well as the development of user personas, or chronic user issues in applying the operator primitives. The research reported here represents a substantial step forward regarding the science of cartographic interaction. However, the there is still much work to be done; the insights generated by the dissertation research offer an initial foundation for structuring future scientific research on cartographic interaction.