Visual features of cartographic representation in map perception

Wiesława Żyszkowska 1
  • 1 Wrocław


The author describes the properties and mechanisms of visual perception in the context of their significance to the principles of symbol design as used in cartography. Map perception relies on the process of visual perception. Therefore, the knowledge of its inner workings in the map environment allows cartographers to construct cartographic symbols in agreement with the properties of the visual system.

Visual perception involves neurosensory processes taking place between the eye and the short-term memory. As such, they operate independently of the beholder’s consciousness and significantly influence the information received by the map user. The author discusses the mechanisms of human vision and the nature of the process of visual perception. It also shows the relationships between the image characteristic and the visual system’s properties such as the optical resolution, visual adaptation, reactions of inhibition and reinforcement, reactions to the image characteristics – as well as the phenomena of contrast, grouping and spatial arrangement.

The principles of constructing map symbols that have been developed in the long course of cartography, and based mostly on the map makers’ intuition, find validation in the light of properties and mechanisms of visual perception. As discussed in the paper, the fundamental properties and basic mechanisms of human vision support the view that knowledge of how the visual system works provides foundation for articulating new mapping guidelines and cartographers’ calls for stricter observance of cartographic principles are fully justified.

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