The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Usability Perspectives for the Design of Interactive Maps

Annu-Maaria Nivala

Dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to be presented with due permission of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering for public examination and debate in Auditorium T2 at Helsinki University of Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 30th of November, 2007, at 12 o'clock noon.

Overview in PDF format (ISBN 978-951-22-8943-1)   [583 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 978-951-711-263-5)


Recent changes in information and communication technology have led to new methods for visualising geospatial data and to interactive map applications. Consequently, traditional map design and evaluation methods may no longer be suitable for the new range of users, use situations and devices. The hypothesis of this study was that user-centred design (UCD) has a fundamental role in designing interactive maps, which involve new ways of interacting. The study was initiated to assess the suitability of usability engineering (UE) methods in the development of interactive maps, and to examine the user requirements for interactive maps; both in a static desktop environment and on mobile devices.

The problems involved in bringing UE into map design were approached through five research topics. First, a state-of-the-art study was carried out to investigate how familiar map developers were with UE methods. Second, a usability evaluation was conducted for web mapping sites, in order to find out whether there are usability problems in the current design and, if so, to issue guidelines on how they could be avoided. Thirdly, the user-centred design process and the different UE methods were used in developing a mobile map service, while experiences of using the methods in practice were gathered at the same time. The fourth research goal was to gather information from each individual study included in this thesis and conclude the benefits, disadvantages and challenges of including UE methods in map design. The fifth objective was to gather information from each study to give a general idea on what the characteristics of user-friendly interactive maps are (or what they should be).

The innovative aspects developed in the design process during the study support the suitability of the UCD for map design. New technological possibilities create the potential for new design approaches, and the UCD approach can therefore be used as a method of incorporating material and increasing designers' knowledge of user requirements. By using an iterative UCD approach, while simultaneously taking into account the novelty and diversity of users and their tasks together with the characteristics of maps, application developers would be able to design products that have a higher quality of use. Understanding the context of use becomes especially critical with mobile maps, because they can be used in various situations and for various purposes. Future research topics are identified at the end of the thesis.

This thesis consists of an overview and of the following 6 publications:

  1. Nivala, A.-M., Sarjakoski, L.T. and T. Sarjakoski, 2007. Usability Methods' Familiarity among Map Application Developers. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 65 (9): 784-795, Elsevier. © 2007 Elsevier Science. By permission.
  2. Nivala, A.-M., Brewster, S.A. and L.T. Sarjakoski. Usability Evaluation of Web Mapping Sites. The Cartographic Journal, Special Issue on Use and User Issues, submitted for publication. (Shorter version of the paper already published in: Nivala, A.-M., Brewster, S.A. and L.T. Sarjakoski, 2007. Usability Problems of Web Map Sites. Proceedings of the 23rd International Cartographic Conference, Cartography for everyone and for you, Moscow, Russia, August 4-10, 2007, Theme 12, CD-ROM.)
  3. Nivala, A.-M., Sarjakoski, L.T., Jakobsson, A. and E. Kaasinen, 2003. Usability Evaluation of Topographic Maps in Mobile Devices. Proceedings of the 21st International Cartographic Conference, August 10-16, 2003, Durban, South Africa, pp. 1903-1913, CD-ROM. © 2003 International Cartographic Association. By permission.
  4. Sarjakoski, L.T. and A.-M. Nivala, 2005. Adaptation to Context – A Way to Improve the Usability of Mobile Maps. A book chapter in Meng, L., Zipf, A. and T. Reichenbacher, (eds.), Map-based Mobile Services, Theories, Methods and Implementations, Springer, NY, pp. 107-123. © 2005 Springer Science+Business Media. By permission.
  5. Nivala, A.-M. and L.T. Sarjakoski, 2007. User Aspects of Adaptive Visualization for Mobile Maps. Cartography and Geographic Information Science, Towards Ubiquitous Cartography, 34 (4): 275-284.
  6. Nivala, A.-M., Sarjakoski, L.T. and T. Sarjakoski, 2005. User-Centred Design and Development of a Mobile Map Service. In Hauska, H. and H. Tveite (eds.), Proceedings of the 10th Scandinavian Research Conference on Geographical Information Sciences (ScanGIS 2005), June 13-15, 2005, Stockholm, Sweden, pp. 109-123. © 2005 by authors.

Keywords: usability engineering, user-centred design, usability engineering method, map, cartography, geographical information system, web mapping site, mobile map

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© 2007 Helsinki University of Technology

Last update 2011-05-26