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This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-RD-99-196
Date: December 1999

In-Vehicle Display Icons and Other Information Elements: Preliminary Assessment of Visual Symbols






This is one of a series of reports produced as part of a contract to develop precise and detailed human factors design guidelines for in–vehicle display icons and other information elements. The contractual effort consists of three phases: analytical, empirical, and integrative.

This report is the second product of the analytical phase. It provides design guidance for the joint use of visual, auditory, and tactile information presentation and builds a foundation for future design tools that will assist designers in specifying icon design for in–vehicle information technologies, particularly as they relate to Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS).

Copies of this report can be obtained through the Research and Technology Report Center, 9701 Philadelphia Court, Unit Q, Lanham, Maryland 20706, telephone: (301) 577–0818, fax: (301) 577–1421, or the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, Virginia 22161, telephone: (703) 605–6000, fax: (703) 605–6900.

Michael F. Trentacoste
Director, Office of Safety
Research and Development


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1. Report No.


2. Government Accession No. 3. Recipient's Catalog No.
4. Title and Subtitle


5. Report Date

December, 1999

6. Performing Organization Code
7. Author(s)

John D. Lee, Cher Carney, Steven M. Casey, and John L. Campbell

8. Performing Organization Report No.
9. Performing Organization Name and Address

Battelle Human Factors Transportation Center
4000 NE 41st Street
Seattle, WA 98105

10. Work Unit No. (TRAIS)
11. Contract or Grant No.


12. Sponsoring Agency Name and Address

Office of Safety and Traffic Operations R&D
Federal Highway Administration
6300 Georgetown Pike
McLean, VA 22101–2296

13. Type of Report and Period Covered

Preliminary Assessment of Visual Symbols

12/97 – 6/98

14. Sponsoring Agency Code
15. Supplementary Notes

Contracting Officer's Technical Representative (COTR): Thomas Granda, HRDS

16. Abstract

This report describes the methods and results associated with Task B: Preliminary Assessment of Visual Symbols. The purpose of Task B is twofold: (1) it identifies credible procedures, heuristics, and principles for the joint use of visual, auditory, and tactile information to present in–vehicle messages, and (2) it defines message characteristics that should guide symbol design. Defining these characteristics and their interactions helps to identify design tradeoffs and provides the basis for future design guidelines and tools. The methodology employed to complete Task B included: refining a list of previously generated IVIS messages, conducting a review of the literature relevant to sensory modality, evaluating the IVIS messages using a sensory modality decision tool, defining messages according to their contextual characteristics and information processing elements (IPEs), clustering messages according to their contextual characteristics, grouping those clusters to identify general design categories, and examining the IPEs and design tradeoffs within each cluster and category.

Through the process of devising these design tools and decision aids and analyzing the list of relevant IVIS messages, we developed the following conclusions: (1) a review of existing literature regarding visual, auditory and tactile information presentation provided numerous general principles for modality selection, which was the basis for an effective sensory modality decision tool, (2) classifying IVIS messages according to ITS technologies and general functions is insufficient for providing effective design guidelines, (3) understanding the driving context under which IVIS messages are presented is critical for successful design guideline development, (4) the IPEs associated with an IVIS message can successfully be used to develop the design guidelines that consider the perceptual, memory, and motor control limits of the driver, (5) the cluster analysis technique provides a powerful tool to focus future analyses on a meaningful subset of possible combinations of contextual characteristics and IPEs, (6) the tools and decision aids developed as part of Task B have provided the project team with a solid analytical foundation to begin guideline development in Task C of this project, and (7) a key challenge associated with Task C will be to integrate the information provided in this report and develop clear, relevant, and easy–to–use design guidelines for in–vehicle icons.

17. Key Words

Human Factors, In–Vehicle Icons, ITS, Display Modality, Driver Information

18. Distribution Statement

No restrictions. This document is available to the public through the National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA 22161.

19. Security Classif. (of this report)


20. Security Classif. (of this page)


21. No. of Pages


22. Price

Form DOT F 1700.7 (8–72) Reproduction of completed page authorized



United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration