Zooming, Multiple Windows, and Visual Working Memory


Zooming and multiple windows are two techniques designed to address the focus-in-context problem. We present a theoretical model of performance that models the relative benefits of these techniques when used by humans for completing a task involving comparisons between widely separated groups of objects. The crux of the model is its cognitive component: the strength of multiple windows comes in the way they aid visual working memory. The task to which we apply our model is multiscale comparison, in which a user begins with a known visual pattern and searches for an identical or similar pattern among distracters. The model predicts that zooming should be better for navigating between a few distant locations when demands on visual memory are low, but that multiple windows are more efficient when demands on visual memory are higher, or there are several distant locations that must be investigated. To evaluate our model we conducted an experiment in which users performed a multiscale comparison task using both zooming and multiple-window interfaces. The results confirm the general predictions of our model.


Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping

Publication Date


Journal Title

Proceedings of the Working Conference on Advanced Visual Interfaces



Conference Date

May 22 - May 24, 2002

Publisher Place

St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada


Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type

Conference Proceeding