Research on Trust in Visual Presentation Media

Or “How does the media used to convey a planned onshore wind development affect the understanding and belief in the visual representation?”


As is well known (in the UK at least) the visual impact assessment (VIA) component of the environmental statement is a critical component in planning for development, especially so in onshore wind.  Guidance has existed for many years based on the Landscape Institute’s GLVIA guidelines and focussed for onshore wind by Scottish Natural Heritage publications.  Neither are a legal framework for planning, but represent best practice and are de-facto standards for print production.

Digital technologies are becoming prevalent in all aspects of our life.  3D modelling, virtual, mixed and augmented reality are increasingly used as communication tools for planning (including Linknode’s VentusAR) where they can be more flexible, cheaper and dynamic. In 2014, Linknode utilised academic funding to create an independent assessment of paper and digital media.  The School of Psychology at The University of Glasgow undertook the research, headed by Dr David Simmons.

Existing Research

Recent research on GIS techniques for landscape and VIA assessment (WISERD, 2012) found that for digital landscape visualisation (LV):

  • Photomontages were rated highest overall in all in each of the four evaluation areas (ease of interpretation, landscape and visual impacts and perceived accuracy)
  • LV-based outputs were generally felt to lack the ‘realism’ of photomontages
  • Animated LV was rated more highly than static LV for assessing potential landscape and visual impacts
  • Problems with usability were a major issue with regard to dynamic LV-based visual tools, particularly navigation of the viewer position using the real-time LV model

In particular reference to onshore wind and landscape, Highland Council and The University of Stirling published results in 2012, leading to updates in the SNH guidelines.  This compared the effect of focal length on printed materials (not digital), however, it did not include figures on any observed statistical significance of the results.

SNH and LI (GLVIA) also publish and reference research extensively.

Psychology of Landscape and Visual Perception

At All-Energy 2014 in Aberdeen , we presented an introduction to the psychology of landscape visualisation called “Visualisation and Perceptions in Trust”.  A download link is available under the ‘documents’ section here.

This was the background to the trial that was designed and implemented by The University of Glasgow.

2014 Trial

Local, academic and professional people were invited to take part in a blind, naive trial – the real purpose was not exposed until the end (and thus had to be approved by the ethics committee).  Assessing a viewpoint from the University, participants were given a questionnaire and an ordered set of locations to attend.  Some locations were “at a viewpoint” with a clear aspect to the proposed turbine, and some were away – where there was no real-world view.  In both zones, a viewpoint visual (prepared to SNH standards by LDA Design), a static PDF of the visual and a tablet-based view based on a live, or near-live image with animation was presented.


The full results will be published in a peer-reviewed journal later this year for academic reference.  However, as part of the All-Energy Conference in Glasgow today (6 May 2015) we are highlighting key findings.  The slides below show how there is a consistent preference for digital technologies over paper and static digital.  The graphs show a median and IQR because averages are not appropriate statistics in this type of evaluation.

All Energy 2015 - A

It is up to the academics to answer the question such as Why?  But we do have observer comments that can clearly signpost us towards some of the reasons and one such eloquent description is below:

“the animated views were much more convincing and realistic of the visual impact of [the wind turbine], especially near window where I could easily visualise and compare this view both with and without the [wind turbine]”


Being “At the viewpoint” is important.
Observations showed that (using whatever medium), it is better assessed at the viewpoint, rather than away from the viewpoint.  This is important in comparing the input and influence of planning officials, elected members and committees when assessing a site.  The experience of users in different locations leads to different levels of belief and understanding of the project.

Tablet Medium was Preferred, Digital Static Not So
Observations showed that the tablet was rated “as good as” or “better” than other views for ALL tests (Ease of Use / Clarity / Trustworthiness / Information Shown / VIA Effectiveness).  Additionally, in overall preference, the tablet had the most trustworthy visuals and was referred, and the static digital view was the least preferred.

All Energy 2015 - B