Thoughts on “Evaluating the usability of visualization methods in an exploratory geovisualization environment”

There’s a very important component of geovisualization missing from this article: aesthetics. Koua et al cover a great number of factors important to geovisualization, in particular test measures, effectiveness, and usability. However, they only briefly mention users’ “subjective views” towards a geovisualization and “compatability (between the way the tool looks… compared with the user’s conventions and expectations).” This omission is noticeable, since geovisualization is, as its name implies, a very visual aspect of any cartographic scheme, and the aesthetics of any visualization are almost always inherently important. However, it may not be entirely surprising, since this paper focuses on the “usability and usefulness of the visual-computational analysis environment.” The authors have implied through this omission that aesthetics do not relate to the usability and usefulness of geovisualization; however, I would disagree with that assumption. Maps are, at their core, a visual way of displaying data; how they look, not just how they show data, matter. Therefore, however subjective aesthetics are (and they are quite subjective), they must relate to the effectiveness of a map. A map could have great data to show, but if the colors are oversaturated, or the water isn’t blue, this could distract the eye of whoever is looking at it and take away from the map’s findings. If the map user can’t pull the important information from it, then what’s the point of having a map at all? I understand why the authors may have decided to omit aesthetics, considering it’s such a subjective factors compared to everything else they discuss; however, including aesthetics would have made this discussion on visualization usability more robust and complete.

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