Rendering Effective Route Maps: Improving Usability Through Generalization

Maneesh Agrawala, Chris Stolte


Route maps, which depict a path from one location to another, have emerged as one of the most popular applications on the Web. Current computer-generated route maps, however, are often very difficult to use. In this paper we present a set of cartographic generalization techniques specifically designed to improve the usability of route maps. Our generalization techniques are based both on cognitive psychology research studying how route maps are used and on an analysis of the generalizations commonly found in handdrawn route maps. We describe algorithmic implementations of these generalization techniques within LineDrive, a real-time system for automatically designing and rendering route maps. Feedback from over 2200 users indicates that almost all believe LineDrive maps are preferable to using standard computer-generated route maps alone.

Try LineDrive for your own routes at Mappoint Driving Directions.

Three route maps for the same route rendered by (left) a standard computer-mapping system, (middle) a person, and (right) LineDrive, our route map rendering system. The standard computer-generated map is difficult to use because its large, constant scale factor causes the short roads to vanish and because it is cluttered with extraneous details such as city names, parks, and roads that are far away from the route. Both the handdrawn map and the LineDrive map exaggerate the lengths of the short roads to ensure their visibility while maintainaing a simple, clean design that emphasizes the most essential information for following the route. Note that the handdrawn map was created without seeing either the standard computer-generated map or the LineDrive map.

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Rendering Effective Route Maps: Improving Usability Through Generalization
SIGGRAPH 2001, August 2001. pp. 241-250.