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authors Ingram, R. and Benford, S.
year 1995
title Improving the legibility of virtual environments
source Second Euro graphics Workshop on Virtual Environments
summary Years of research into hyper-media systems have shown that finding one's way through large electronic information systems can be a difficult task. Our experiences with virtual reality suggest that users will also suffer from the commonly experienced "lost in hyperspace" problem when trying to navigate virtual environments. The goal of this paper is to propose and demonstrate a technique which is currently under development with the aim of overcoming this problem. Our approach is based upon the concept of legibility, adapted from the discipline of city planning. The legibility of an urban environment refers to the ease with which its inhabitants can develop a cognitive map over a period of time and so orientate themselves within it and navigate through it [Lynch60]. Research into this topic since the 1960s has argued that, by carefully designing key features of urban environments planners can significantly influence their legibility. We propose that these legibility features might be adapted and applied to the design of a wide variety of virtual environments and that, when combined with other navigational aids such as the trails, tours and signposts of the hyper-media world, might greatly enhance people's ability to navigate them. In particular, the primary role of legibility would be to help users to navigate more easily as a result of experiencing a world for some time (hence the idea of building a cognitive map). Thus, we would see our technique being of most benefit when applied to long term, persistent and slowly evolving virtual environments. Furthermore, we are particularly interested in the automatic application of legibility techniques to information visualisations as opposed to their relatively straight forward application to simulations of the real-word. Thus, a typical future application of our work might be in enhancing visualisations of large information systems such the World Wide Web. Section 2 of this paper summarises the concept of legibility as used in the domain of city planning and introduces some of the key features that have been adapted and applied in our work. Section 3 then describes in detail the set of algorithms and techniques which are being developed for the automatic creation or enhancement of these features within virtual data spaces. Next, section 4 presents two example applications based on two different kinds of virtual data space. Finally, section 5 presents some initial reflections on this work and discusses the next steps in its evolution.
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