The Use of Visual Attention Software (VAS) for Communication and Wayfinding Design and Analysis; Is VAS an Effective Tool for Environmental Communicat

Presented by: Henry Hildebrandt, Chris Auffrey

Signage and environmental graphics serves an essential role in wayfinding and identity communication on several levels: the city scale, commercial interiors and in large multi-building complexes such as airports and hospitals. An expanding global society now demands effective and efficient navigation graphics with strong product identity packaged in international commercial markets. This new evolving ‘messaging’ system often serves as public art as well as directs movement, establishes ‘identity’ and indexes the context while maintaining brand recognition. This requires an acute understanding of sign and symbol effectiveness and sign conspicuity. (Evans-Cowley & Nasar 2004; Morris, et al. 2001; California Electric Sign Association and International Sign Association 1997). Rapid advances in technologies are now combined with the increasing use of electronic message centers (EMC) and other new digital communication modes such as QR (Quick Response) Code identification and onboard car screens linked to personal communication devises. This has accelerated branding strategies beyond traditional on-premise graphic signage. Industry estimates predict that the number of digital signs will exceed 22 million by the end of 2015 (Schroeder 2012). These communication systems are elements of marketing as well as communication, requiring a systematic methodology for evaluation and effectiveness to insure design communication goals. Commercial venders have developed Visual Attention Modeling software products based on human vision science. This software allows designers to interactively design communication and identity products with better predictability, and thus, in theory, better success. Visual Attention Modeling and 3M’s Visual Attention Software (VAS) was developed to predict how human pre-cognitive attention is focused across a visual field. VAS provides designers a tool to predict which elements in the visual scene or ‘field’ will have the greatest impact in the first 3 – 5 seconds in a view. VAS software selects five critical visual elements vision science deems most dominate – edges, intensity, red/green contrast, blue/yellow contrast, and facial recognition. The VAS system outputs a human fixation ‘heatmap’ showing saliency and a prioritized map according to the five elements for viewing probability of eye fixation image. VAS is marketed as both an analytical design tool and a creative process tool. This presentation summarizes assessment of VAS in: _Utility and accuracy in predicting the prioritized visual field within a range of different contextual environments: urban cityscape; interior complexes and branded retail; on-premise sign and symbol placement. _The application as a up-stream design tool applied to environment communication (wayfinding) and signage. _The utilizing visual computational modeling software and effectiveness for establishing visual goals in design process in the academic setting and professional practice. The 3M VAS software represents a powerful tool in flushing out effective communicational messages in early eye scans. Combined with direct field observations by a trained eye, and the understanding of contextual conditions, better signage and more effective communication results can be achieved using objective analytic tools such as VAS to better understand the how built and natural environment context impacts the effectiveness of environmental communication. There are many advantages and limitations of VAS compared with the traditional field surveys used by designers. The objective in this presentation is to provide insights into analytical methods for visually mapping the built environment for signage effectiveness, compare knowledge gaps in various visual mapping analytical tools such as VAS, and expand the discussion of emerging technologies in environment signage communication.

References:

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  • Mahar-Keplinger, Lisa. American Signs: Form and Meaning Along Route 66. New York: Monticelli Press, 2002.
  • Gunther Kress & Theo van Leeuwen, Reading Images; The Grammar of Visual Design. London & New York: Routledge, 2006
  • Uebele Andreas, Signage Systems & Information Graphics; A Professional Sourcebook. New York: Thames Hudson, 2007