A Novel Graphic Syntax: An investigation into how a gps-enabled wayfinding interface can be designed to visually support urban recreational walkers’ situation awareness

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


GPS-enabled wayfinding interfaces (i.e. digital maps) are now commonly used as wayfinding devices in urban locations. While these wayfinding interfaces provide increasingly accurate geographic and routing information, little attention has been paid to how novel information design approaches may support particular user-experiences within particular use-contexts. This practice-based research focuses on the design of GPS-enabled wayfinding interfaces within the use-context of urban recreational walking/wandering. In particular, it investigates how these interfaces could be designed to visually support situation awareness in use. That is, awareness of one’s embodied involvement in the surrounding environment while using the interface.

The enquiry progresses through two phases.
In the first phase, a programme of semi-structured interviews are conducted with urban recreational walkers/wanderers. Analysis of the data reveals participants’ motivations to walk, their experience of exploratory wayfinding, as well as their use of wayfinding materials in general and GPS-enabled technology in particular. With regard to the latter, attention is paid to ways in which these wayfinding interfaces are negatively perceived. Here, it is identified that, amongst the group as a whole, the undermining of situation awareness (SA) and the negation of exploratory wayfinding practices are seen as significant issues. Having made this identification, an area for experimentation is framed and, within this, a design hypothesis is formulated.
Next, in the enquiry’s second phase, a series of design experiments are undertaken in order to develop a novel wayfinding interface in response to this hypothesis. Here, an iterative development cycle leads to the design and testing of a mixed-fidelity working prototype interface through the application of qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection and analysis. By integrating and assessing the results, it is possible to assert that, for the majority of participants, SA-in-use was supported, thus verifying the hypothesis.
Thereafter, the interface is presented as a practical response to the primary research question of the enquiry and, as such, is positioned as an artefactual contribution to knowledge. Then, through a graphic syntax analysis (Engelhardt 2002) of this artefact, a contextualised graphic syntax for design is generated. In setting out a series of principles, it provides an outline for the design of a GPS-enabled WI to visually support an urban recreational walker’s/wanderer’s situation awareness in use and, so, may guide/inform future designs.
Further to this, in graphic syntax analysis, a reflection on the dynamic and interactive aspects of the interface leads to an extension of Engelhardt’s graphic syntax framework (2002) being proposed. Here, by expanding the framework’s scope, the description of the dynamic and interactive aspects of graphic representations is now made possible. It is held that this, in turn, may support the development of an expanded theory of graphic syntax.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJanet McDonnell (Supervisor) & Patricia Austin (Supervisor)

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