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Huseby zoom maps: a design methodology for tactile graphics.

Zoom Maps are a recent design development from the Teaching Aides Department at Huseby Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired in Oslo, Norway (see Figures 1 and 2). The aim of Zoom graphics is to produce better maps for individuals with visual impairments and to present a design methodology for the producers of tactile graphics. The first two pilot tests of a set of Zoom Maps have proved favorable (see the Pilot tests section).


Zoom Maps and Zoom graphics were designed specifically for braille readers who are not accustomed to reading tactile graphics. Zoom Maps can be thought of as introductory maps that a reader with visual impairment uses before he or she advances to more complicated maps.

A series of Zoom Maps can be compared to those created by online map services. In an online map, a map of an area is presented from a distance and the user is able to "zoom" in closer and closer to see more and more details, both geographical and political. Instead of online screen images, however, Zoom Maps provide hardcopy tactile maps in which each new close-up results in a new, more detailed, page of a tactile graphic (see Figure 3).

In Zoom Maps, the amount of graphic information is restricted to avoid clutter. If the graphics exceed a given amount, the original graphic is divided to create a new map with fewer graphics and more specific information. This division can result in a series or hierarchy of maps that take a small section of a map and "zoom in" on it--hence the name, Zoom Maps.



The map hierarchy and number of maps that are needed are dependent on which geographic information will be presented. That is, if one wants to show towns in all the counties of a region, then it is likely that more maps will be required than if only select towns of that region are to be shown. If there is a large amount of information in a section of a map, the section needs to be divided into segments--such as Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest--and then four new maps are created to show the detailed information for each new section (see Figure 3).



The design of the maps is based on four main concepts or "rules." The first rule is to use the structured reading methods of a braille reader, that is, to read a text page line for line. The second rule is to divide text from graphics by a defining rectangle. The third rule is to restrict the amount of symbolic graphic information that is allowed in one tactile graphic. The fourth rule is to use texture to create contrast between the textures used to differentiate geographic areas. One result of these rules is that each new map will, for the reader, seem familiar to the ones from before and thereby establish consistency. Another result is that they give the designer clearer guidelines for creating certain tactile graphics.

Structured reading

A reader of braille first scans the page and then reads one line after another. Zoom Maps take this process into consideration by placing text used in a map in an orderly way, similar to a page of braille. Text is placed only at the sides of the defining rectangle.

Division of text and graphics

Graphics and text appear on the same page of a Zoom Map, but they are physically divided by a rectangle. The graphics of the map are encompassed by a rectangle, and the text of the map is on the outside of the rectangle. The text on the outside of the rectangle is adjacent to the specific part of the graphic that it relates to. If there is a great distance between the text and the graphic, a leading line (made up of the braille letter "g"), is used to connect the text to the graphic. The purpose of using the letter "g" is to differentiate clearly between a leading line and a line used in the graphic. By doing so, the leading line is less likely to be confused with a graphic line and therefore does not add graphic clutter to the map. Ideally, the braille letter "g" is the only text allowed inside the rectangle. The leading lines can run either vertically or horizontally.

Restrictions of graphics

The amount of graphics allowed on a single Zoom Map page is decided by two factors: the amount of text lines along the height of the rectangle and the restriction of "enclosed" graphic information. Enclosed information pertains to the graphic information that cannot be directly connected to the labeling text outside the rectangle. For example, if a rectangle is surrounded on all sides by other rectangles, the surrounded rectangle would be considered enclosed. For the Zoom Maps described here, an enclosed graphic is allowed if there is just one adjacent form on any given side of the enclosed form (see Figure 4).

The label for the enclosed information is placed directly under the label of the area to which it is adjacent. A punctuation mark can be used as a prefix to the label to inform the reader that the text pertains to a graphic that is enclosed between two others. It will inform readers that their fingers are to continue beyond the first area.


In a Zoom Map, texture is used to help clarify the graphic. Texture is used to differentiate one graphic form from another, not to define it. That is, one form does not "own" a texture, but adjacent forms have different textures to separate them from each other. For example, in a map of the 48 U.S. states, both Minnesota and Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas may have the same texture, so as to differentiate them from the bordering state of Wisconsin.

Production techniques

At Huseby, the Zoom Maps have been produced using a Tiger embosser, but it is thought that the design methodology can be equally used with other production techniques, such as microcapsule paper and lower resolution graphic embossers.


To explain the setup of a Zoom Map to the reader, a five-page "premap" set of maps is included with the training materials. The premaps show the layout and the different parts of a Zoom Map and how they are connected to each other. A seven-point list on how to read the maps is also included with the premaps:

1. Read the title.

2. Feel the whole page to get an overall view of the map.

3. Find the frame.

4. Read the text on all sides of the frame to learn what is in the map.

5. Go to the first name at the upper left side of the rectangle. Feel the texture beside the name.

6. Let your finger follow along the leading line, "g," from the text until you come to the map area. The texture in that map area should be the same as the texture beside the name.

7. Read the next name on the map.



Pilot testing was informal and carried out in two stages: testing of the prototype and testing of the revised prototype with an instructional manual. There were nine testers, seven who reviewed the maps in-house at Huseby and two who received the maps through the mail and tested them offsite. Of the nine, two were senior high school students, and the remaining seven were adults. One of the off-site testers did not respond. All the individuals who participated in the pilot tests were competent braille readers, however, they reported that their familiarity with tactile graphics ranged from being confident to having little exposure to tactile graphics. The feedback we received from the testers resulted in modifications of the design of Zoom Maps. In the first stage of testing, four adults were consulted, and instruction was given verbally. These testers recommended that leading lines be used consistently to join text to associated graphics and to create an instructional manual.

In the second stage of testing, the revised maps were provided to testers along with a five-page instruction manual. Part of the aim of the instruction manual is to aid users in independent study of the maps. At this stage, only five of the nine testers, those who were less familiar with tactile graphics, tested the maps. These individuals reported that the maps were not difficult to use, which was perhaps the most encouraging finding of the second phase of the pilot test, since the target group for Zoom Maps is individuals who are unfamiliar with tactile graphics. The reaction of one, a high school student who had received the maps and manual through the mail, was recounted by her teacher as this: "Imagine if I had learned these earlier."

The users' comments in the second stage of the pilot test resulted in further modification of the design. Two individuals commented on the similarity of adjacent textures that were equally saturated in raised dots. That is, when the Tiger embosser is used to create a Zoom Map, any area that is gray can feel similar to an area that is black. The similarity in texture of these tones led to the decision to use more defined textures, such as lines and dots instead of shades of black and gray, to differentiate areas of the map.

Future controlled studies could include testing students' ability to complete specific tasks with the maps, evaluating the instruction manual, and evaluating if the maps aid the user in the transition to a more information-dense Cartesian map. These studies would be useful for the future development of tactile maps.


The design methodology for Zoom graphics is new, and it is expected that there will be changes and adaptations, if the method is adopted by other content providers. In addition, evaluations provided by the pilot testers were important for the productive development of the maps. Zoom graphics are not meant to be a substitute for other techniques for creating tactile graphics, but to be an additional design method that can be added to a content provider's tools for providing users with a greater and richer assortment of tactile graphics.

I thank Huseby Resource Center for giving me the opportunity to develop the tactile graphic methodology and Anne Lise Lingjaerde for her help and suggestions in editing this article.

Lisa Yayla, B.Sc., advisor and designer of accessible graphics, Huseby Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired, Gamle Hovsetervei 3, 0768 Oslo, Norway; e-mail: <>.
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Title Annotation:Practice Perspectives; Huseby Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired
Author:Yayla, Lisa
Publication:Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EXNO
Date:May 1, 2009
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