Scott Warren, Syracuse University

Document Type



September 2001


Library and Information Science


This paper creates a taxonomic model for visual information displays looking at three levels: information design (based on Edward Tufte’s work), information architecture, and information spaces. Special attention is paid to the use of spatial and navigational metaphors in visual systems as they affect the user’s experience. Especially interesting is how a user creates an “information space” – a mental model of what he has seen, how she keeps track of where she is within a system, and how these activities fit together with the data that is being sought. Mathematics is one area that holds promise for better understanding how people visualize information spaces. Vague terms like space, shape, and distance (all implied by the navigation metaphor) have far more refined conceptualizations within mathematics. By harnessing the descriptive powers of mathematics, we can more aptly describe and understand the process of metaphor creation. Secondly, studying comic books and how they are read (McCloud 1993) holds much promise for understanding how people navigate electronic systems. Comics are 2-D sequentially arranged (or at least juxtaposed) combinations of images and text, much like computer screens. People used to reading such visual constructions are better able to navigate through complex information systems. Finally, the use of spatial or navigational metaphors necessarily implies a temporal dimension as well, which leads to certain subtle, but important differences when comparing navigationthrough electronic environments as opposed to real world ones.

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