Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of Geography and Planning

Content Description

1 online resource (vi, 44 pages) : color illustrations, color maps.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Rui Li

Committee Members

James Mower, Alexander Buyantuev, Andrei Lapenas


distant landmarks, edge icons, mobile phones, spatial orientation, visualization, Cell phones, Global Positioning System, Icons (Computer graphics), Space perception, Spatial behavior, Automobiles

Subject Categories

Geographic Information Sciences


Mobile phones have become so popular in navigation. Empirical studies, however, have implied several pitfalls of using these mobile systems. First of all, the small size of the mobile screen fragmentizes the map information so that users have to interact with the display frequently for fear of disorientation. In addition, generated navigation guides with continuous displays of routing information relieves users’ cognitive load, but the excessive reliance on the displayed spatial information keeps the users being mindless of the environment that impacts their acquisition of spatial knowledge. Later, landmarks as important referents were suggested to help users integrate the current surroundings with further decision points to support their sense of direction and cognitive mapping. But the small display limited users to access the landmarks located out of the view. To address this issue, designs attempt to display distant landmarks at the edge of screen as a way to overcome the aforementioned limits. In order to enhance spatial orientation while using mobile devices, this study introduced an improved design that not only display the direction but also the distance concept of distant landmarks by changing in size as an indicator of the distance from a user’s location. Built on this, two kinds of mechanism were designed to present the distance concept by icons of different sizes: one is based on ratio scale that icons change in size continuously based on an established ratio to the actual distance between the user and the distant location. The other mechanism is based on ordinal scale which assigns one of three different sizes to a certain range of distance implying near, middle, and far. A formal user study was carried out to compare efficiency of these two mechanisms in four types of distance comparison tasks. Results show that ordinal icons are more effective than ratio icons in visualizing relative distances between two distant landmarks. But for both mechanisms, users have challenges distinguishing distant landmarks from local landmarks when displayed on screen simultaneously. A further step is to explore some other feasible options of representing distance.