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Using Eye Tracking to Evaluate the Usability of Flow Maps

State Key Laboratory of Remote Sensing Science, Beijing Key Laboratory for Remote Sensing of Environment and Digital Cities, Research Center of Geospatial Cognition and Visual Analytics, and Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
Chair of Cartography, Technical University of Munich, 80333 Munich, Germany
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2018, 7(7), 281;
Received: 26 May 2018 / Revised: 11 July 2018 / Accepted: 19 July 2018 / Published: 21 July 2018
PDF [3178 KB, uploaded 21 July 2018]


Flow maps allow users to perceive not only the location where interactions take place, but also the direction and volume of events. Previous studies have proposed numerous methods to produce flow maps. However, how to evaluate the usability of flow maps has not been well documented. In this study, we combined eye-tracking and questionnaire methods to evaluate the usability of flow maps through comparisons between (a) straight lines and curves and (b) line thicknesses and color gradients. The results show that curved flows are more effective than straight flows. Maps with curved flows have more correct answers, fixations, and percentages of fixations in areas of interest. Furthermore, we find that the curved flows require longer finish times but exhibit smaller times to first fixation than straight flows. In addition, we find that using color gradients to indicate the flow volume is significantly more effective than the application of different line thicknesses, which is mainly reflected by the presence of more correct answers in the color-gradient group. These empirical studies could help improve the usability of flow maps employed to visualize geo-data. View Full-Text
Keywords: flow map; map usability; visual variables; visualization; eye tracking flow map; map usability; visual variables; visualization; eye tracking

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Dong, W.; Wang, S.; Chen, Y.; Meng, L. Using Eye Tracking to Evaluate the Usability of Flow Maps. ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2018, 7, 281.

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