That’s a Relief: Assessing Landform Clarity and Aesthetic Preference in Terrain Maps

Authors: Nathaniel Douglass*, University of Oregon, Carolyn Fish, University of Oregon
Topics: Cartography
Keywords: Cartography, Cognition, Emotional Cartography, Aesthetics, Map Design, Emotion and Cognition, Affective Design
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 16
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In recent decades, empirical research regarding relief shading (also referred to as hillshading, shaded relief, or terrain shading) in maps has been steadily increasing and broadening in scope. The purpose of shaded relief is to provide a three-dimensional representation of topography that gives an important depth cue while also providing a unique aesthetic quality to the map (Imhof, 1982; Horn, 1981).

This research proposes an examination of both traditional and modern relief shading techniques, with aims to empirically assess map reader perception. Specifically, I propose investigating the way three relief shading techniques (Manual relief, analytical relief, and Blender generated relief) influence landform clarity and overall aesthetic appeal, when blended with hypsometric tinting, landcover, and orthoimagery. Nine permutations of Crater Lake, OR, USA were created and used in the development of a two-part online user study experiment where participants are asked to rank the clarity of a selection of landforms and rate the maps based on their overall beauty and sense of realism. This presentation will discuss the creation of the experiment and detail some initial findings from a recent pilot study.

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