Assessment of Color Variables for Displaying Meta-Information on Maps

Bisantz, A., Pfautz, J., Stone, R., Roth, E., Thomas-Meyers, G., and Fouse, A.

Human Factors & Ergonomics Society 50th Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA (October 2006)

In many domains, operators need to understand and act on large volumes of information from a variety of sources. Operators are particularly challenged by the need to reason about the qualifiers of that information. These qualifiers, or “meta-information”, include characteristics such as the uncertainty associated with data, the age of the data, and the source of the data. Often, these critical data qualifiers are not presented, or are not incorporated into the primary information displays used by operators. In this research, we conducted a controlled experiment to investigate the utility of four common color display attributes (hue, saturation, brightness, and transparency) for displaying meta-information under different map background, task, and meta-information-type conditions. Results indicated that participants could rank and rate display elements which varied based on saturation, transparency and brightness similarly to expected ranks and ratings. Background effects were limited; but task type and framing effects indicated that the “natural” direction for ranking may be context-dependent.

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