Spatial knowledge acquisition and mobile maps: The role of environmental legibility
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The legibility of an environment (i.e. the ease with which a navigator can comprehend its structure) is a fundamental component of urban design, and is related to navigational success in the users of a space. The ascendency of mobile mapping solutions, however, means that legibility could potentially play an increasingly smaller role, where navigators may no longer be required to attend to their surroundings in order to make navigational decisions. To address whether legibility might also modulate the environmental knowledge of mobile map users, we conducted a real-world navigation study where participants were required to navigate to a series of key landmarks in a novel urban city centre. One group navigated using mobile mapping technology, whereas the other group planned their own routes on the basis of the information present in the environment. Participants were then required to produce a sketch map of their route as an assay of their topographical mental representation of the space. Confirming previous findings by other researchers, our quantitative analyses revealed that mobile map users had a poorer mental representation of the environment, compared to the self-experience group. However, further analysis revealed that mobile map users were nevertheless affected by environmental legibility, and experienced greater difficulty with path and nodes (i.e. intersections) that were of greater complexity. This may reflect the demands of relating map information to its real-world referents, and carries implications for urban design that can mitigate against the variety of navigational experiences that take place within it.
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