Modeling and communicating the conceptual intent of geo-analytical tasks for human-GIS interaction

Guoray Cai, Bo Yu, Dong Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


One of the fundamental issues of geographical information science is to design GIS interfaces and functionalities in a way that is easy to understand, teach, and use. Unfortunately, current geographical information systems (including ArcGIS) remains very difficult to use as spatial analysis tools, because they organize and expose functionalities according to GIS data structures and processing algorithms. As a result, GIS interfaces are conceptually confusing, cognitively complex, and semantically disconnected from the way human reason about spatial analytical activities. In this article, we propose an approach that structures GIS analytical functions based on the notion of "analytical intent". We describe an experiment that replaces ArcGIS desktop interface with a conversational interface, to enable mixed-initiative user-system interactions at the level of analytical intentions. We initially focus on the subset of GIS functions that are relevant to "finding what's inside" as described by Mitchell, but the general principles apply to other types of spatial analysis. This work demonstrates the feasibility of delegating some spatial thinking tasks to computational agents, and also raises future research questions that are key to building a better theory of spatial thinking with GIS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-368
Number of pages16
JournalTransactions in GIS
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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