Making Maps Easy to Read

MAP TYPOGRAPHY

This part of the research project consists of a series of experiments on the legibility of type on maps. We argue that a search task is one of the best method for evaluating map typography and we have been able to formulate some practical recommendations on typography for the map designer. Additional experiments on type on maps are reported in the section on Eye Movement Recording.

Legibility of Type on Maps
Names on City Street Maps
Why is Lower Case Better?
Overview: Searching for Names on Maps


Legibility of Type on Maps

A detail from one of the maps used to test the legibility of type in the context of a map.

This chart summarises the main findings: case showed the greatest effect on a search task. See the published paper for a more complete picture.

Reference -
Phillips, R. J., Noyes, L. and Audley, R. J. (1977). The legibility of type on maps. Ergonomics, 20, 671-682.

Abstract - In order to make practical recommendations to the map designer on type legibility, an experimental study was carried out using four map reading tasks to assess the effect of typographical variable on the map reader's performance. These included typeface, weight, size and case. Two hundred and fifty six undergraduates acted as subjects and many statistically significant differences were found. The principal recommendation is that names should be set in a typeface of normal weight in lower case with an initial capital. However, when names are very difficult to pronounce and need to be copied accurately, capitals are recommended.

Full paper as pdf file (1335KB).


Names on City Street Maps


Details showing the two styles of street map that were compared in the experiment.

Reference -
Phillips, R. J. and Noyes, L. (1977). Searching for names in two city street maps. Applied Ergonomics, 8, 73-77.

Abstract - Two experiments investigated the speed with which names could be found on maps from two London street atlases. Differences in grid referencing between the maps accounted for large differences in search times. However, small statistically significant differences were still present when grid references were not being used, and these cannot be explained in terms of map scale, nor in terms of greater familiarity with the faster map. Several design differences could have contributed to this effect and it is likely that the use of lower case type on the faster map was an important factor. Implications for the map designer are discussed.

Full paper as pdf file (737KB).


Why is Lower Case Better?

Reference -
Phillips, R. J. (1979). Why is lower case better? Some data from a search task. Applied Ergonomics, 10, 211-214.

Abstract - Words set in capital letters are less legible than in lower case when reading text, searching for newspaper headlines, or finding a name on a map. The difference is usually attributed to the distinctive shape of lower case words, but lower case setting also emphasises capital letters at the start of sentences and for proper names. In the experiment reported here people searched for names on a map-like display. Names set entirely in lower case took significantly longer to find than those set in small capitals with a large initial capital and so, for this task, emphasis given to the initial letter is clearly more important than word shape. This calls into doubt the word shape explanation in other contexts.

Full paper as pdf file (486KB).


Overview: Searching for Names on Maps

Reference -
Phillips, R. J., Noyes, L. and Audley, R. J. (1978). Searching for names on maps. Cartographic Journal, 15, 72-77.
Also reported as - Phillips,. R. J., Noyes, E. and Audley, R. J. (1980). Namen opzoeken op kaarten. Kartografisch Tijdschrift, 6, 33-39. (Dutch translation.)

Abstract - It is argued that the best way to evaluate map typography is to measure the time taken to find names on a map. Eye movement recording demonstrates that this search time depends on two independent factors: the number of names fixated with the eyes and the mean fixation time. Changes in map design usually affect only one of these factors. For example, typographic coding can reduce the average number of fixations but an increase in point size reduces mean fixation time. This discussion leads to some recommendations on type legibility.

Full paper as pdf file (947KB).


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Updated 19 August 2003