What is the term that specifically describes laying out an object or representation of an object such that the interface reflects the spatial orientation of the object in real life?

For example, controls for a stovetop could be laid out horizontally, across the edge of the stove, as would be most convenient from a mechanical perspective. Four burners, with two on each side, controlled by four knobs, two on each side. Like so:

| * * | | * * | | O O O O |

However, there is no quick, visual, or spatial way to know which of the knobs controls which of the burners - is the back-right burner controlled by the right-most knob, or the second-most-right knob? The control panel could instead be designed with offset knobs (either up/down or forward/backward) to convey information innately, like so:

| * * | | * * | | O O | | O O |

Similarly, information about a networking device (such as a router) could be conveyed via list - for example, which device is plugged into which port.

  1. Desktop
  2. Laptop
  3. Printer
  4. Empty
  5. XBox
  6. Etc..

Or the information could be displayed in a graphical representation, correlating to the layout of the device

Port 1    Port 3    Port 5
Desktop   Printer   XBox
Laptop    Empty     Etc...
Port 2    Port 4    Port...

What is the term to specifically reference this "laying out with innate information conveyed by spatial layout"?

  • 1
    Generically speaking, I'd use the term you used "graphical representation"
    – DA01
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 16:28

3 Answers 3


Apparently the term is Natural Mapping. See linked Wikipedia article for a great 'stove' illustration that is far better than the one in my original question.


"Relative Representation" is the shorthand term for this kind of layout.

You can read much more complex descriptions of ideas on this matter here:



Wayfinding seems to be somewhere along the lines you describe.

"Wayfinding can be defined as spatial problem solving. It is knowing where you are in a building or an environment, knowing where your desired location is, and knowing how to get there from your present location."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.