Theory of Wayfinding Choremes

Dissertation project of Alexander Klippel

The theory of wayfinding choremes contributes to the cognitively adequate characterization of routes and the visualization of route information. One central goal is the identification of primitive route elements from the perspective of cognitive science. These conceptual primitives are coined wayfinding choremes. They are defined as mental conceptualizations of primitive functional wayfinding and route direction elements. The term choreme is derived from a theory by Roger Brunet, chorematic modeling (modelisation chorematique). Choreme is a made-up word taken from the Greek term for space, chorus, and the suffix -eme. By this combination Brunet indicates his goal: the creation of a language for space.

Wayfinding choremes are abstract mental concepts that are accessible by externalizations. For this work two kinds of externalizations are pertinent: verbalization and graphicalization (sketch maps).

One major achievement is the distinction between structural and functional elements of route information. Most approaches, especially those concerned with the visualization of route information, focus on structural aspects, i.e. they are concerned with the conceptualization of objects. In contrast, the wayfinding choreme theory aims at a functional characterization of route information, i.e. it focuses on actions that demarcate only parts of a structure. In this context a distinction is enforced between paths, linear objects in the environment, and routes, linear behavioral patterns.

In the behavioral-experimental part of this work evidence for the following aspects of wayfinding choremes was found:

  • Mental conceptualizations of route parts are based on behavioral patterns. This means that in the context of wayfinding and the communication of route information functional rather than structural concepts predominate.
  • Wayfinding choremes are conceptual spatial primitives of routes. They can be combined to route elements of higher order.
  • The chunking principles of wayfinding choremes are influenced by the structure into which a route is embedded and the existence of additional route information such as landmarks.
  • There are prototypical graphical instantiations of wayfinding choremes.


The original intention of Brunet to develop a language for spatial phenomena is realized in the present work for the domain of route information from a cognitive scientific perspective. The model of wayfinding choremes, which can be understood as terminals, comprises two central parts. First, a grammatical notation is used to organize route information on the basis of wayfinding choremes that allow for the specification of chunking principles. Second, the wayfinding choremes are employed to construct maps. As wayfinding choremes originate in abstract mental concepts this approach is termed cognitive conceptual. In contrast to other approaches that can be termed bottom-up, the wayfinding choreme approach is top-down. The rationale behind this procedure is that it can be assumed that a correspondence between internal and external representations has positive effects on map-wayfinder interaction.

Alexander Klippel continued his work on wayfinding choremes and on conceptualization of route information after leaving our project. Please refer to his current homepage and his further publications.

Main publications:

Alexander Klippel (2003). Wayfinding choremes. Conceptualizing wayfinding and route direction elements. Universität Bremen.

Alexander Klippel (2003). Wayfinding Choremes. In W. Kuhn, M.F. Worboys, S. Timpf (Eds.), Spatial Information Theory: Foundations of Geographic Information Science. Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT), pp. 320-334, Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer, Berlin.

Alexander Klippel, Heike Tappe, Lars Kulik, Paul U. Lee (2005). Wayfinding Choremes - A Language for Modeling Conceptual Route Knowledge. In Journal of Visual Languages and Computing, 16 (4), pp. 311-329.

Alexander Klippel, Kai-Florian Richter, Stefan Hansen (2005). Wayfinding Choreme Maps. In Stephane Bres, Robert Laurini (Eds.), Visual Information and Information Systems. 8th International Conference, VISUAL 2005, pp. 94-108. Springer, Berlin.