Using Flow Maps to Visualize Time-Series Data: Comparing the Effectiveness of a Paper Map Series, a Computer Map Series, and Animation

Harry Johnson, Elisabeth S. Nelson


Motion and change through time are important aspects of thematic maps. Traditionally, such data have been visualized using a series of paper maps that represent multiple snapshots of a location over time. These maps are visually compared by the map reader when analyzing change over time for a location. This static view of change over time has worked well for cartographers in the past, but today computer animation allows cartographers to emphasize the dynamic nature of this data. By animating a map, change over time can be represented on one map rather than in a traditional map series. This study compared a paper map series, a computer map series, and animated maps of the same data to assess the effectiveness of each technique for memorizing data symbolized by graduated flow lines. Subjects were asked to study the maps and to memorize two types of information: quantity data at specified locations on the maps and trend patterns that occurred over the maps. Memorization of the information was subsequently tested using a series of multiple choice questions. Analysis of response times and accuracy rates for these questions suggest that animation does not improve learning ability for quantity evaluations. It does appear, however, to improve subjects' abilities to learn and remember trend patterns in the data. Results also indicate gender differences in using animated maps.


flow maps; paper maps; computer maps; animation

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