Overview of the paper

The Cognitive Limits of Animated Maps

Harrower, M. (2007). The cognitive limits of animated maps. Cartographica: The International Journal for Geographic Information and Geovisualization, 42(4), 349-357.

The bottleneck

of animated maps

cognitive processing capabilities of the user
information overload

static map animated map

... so what is better?

Static map or animated?

"...animated maps are not better or worse than the static, they are simply different..."

The challenge is

WHEN is the animated map effective?

For what kind of:


Cognitive Load Theory (CLT)

CLT describes cognitive structures of information processing and learning involving long-time memory and working memory.

Working memory is in contrast to long-time memory very limited, both in duration and capacity, especially when processing novel information.

Expert vs. novice user

Experts can get more information, because they have access to previously learned information.



An option of repetition

Most map users need to see an animation loop many times before feeling comfortable.

"Repetition gives readers time to revisit material -> refresh working memory and transfer information from working memory to long-time memory."

Managing cognitive load in map animations

increasing an amount of user control over the map

more structure in the animation

  • intro screens
  • chapters
  • narration to direct attention

User control of animated maps

  • control can reduce the cognitive load
  • interactivity makes the map more engaging
  • interactive maps are good for focusing on detail

Split attention effect

  • when a reader must look at more things at once in order to understand all of them
  • using sound to enhance animations is a highly effective way to reduce split attention
  • the combined presentation of audio and visual information reduces cognitive overload and can increase learning efficiency
  • visually linking related items reduces cognitive load

Modality effect

"Engaging the eyes and the ears"

Move cursor over the eagle!

austria Coat of arms of Austria by Peter Diem - Peter Diem. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons http://www.navyband.navy.mil/anthems/all_countries.htm
  • Visual and audio streams should contain unique, not redundant, content.
  • It is better to present audio and visual information simultaneously rather than sequentially.

Land der Berge, Land am Strome,
Land der Äcker, Land der Dome,
Land der Hämmer, zukunftsreich!
Heimat großer Töchter und Söhne,
Volk, begnadet für das Schöne,
Vielgerühmtes Österreich,
Vielgerühmtes Österreich!

9 principles for designing effective animated graphics

Offload work from eyes to ears

Segment content and provide pauses

Include pre-training

Keep it as simple as possible

Important content is highlighted

Put related content close together spatially

Put related content close together temporally

Eliminate redundancy

Individualize content