Maps for the colour blind now a reality

You might remember that last year I wrote a post about the work Ordnance Survey was doing looking into maps for people with colour blindness, or Colour Vision Deficiency (CVD) as it’s more accurately known.

Rather than creating separate colour schemes for those with various forms of CVD and those without, we were working on a colour palette that would work for everyone. Well a year later and we think we’ve cracked it and are now close to releasing a colour scheme for use with OS VectorMap Local, our customisable digital mapping product.

CVD basically means an inability to see certain colours; often red and green, but also other colours too. It affects approximately one in 12 men and one in 100 women in the UK and can make the colours that have traditionally used for maps virtually indistinguishable.  That’s a sizable minority of the population, all with a problem that is often forgotten or overlooked.

With the default style.

With the default style.

With the CVD style applied.

And with the CVD style applied.

Being able to clearly interpret maps is something we often take for granted, but it is an essential skill required in numerous jobs and day to day tasks – whether it’s a property developer planning a new development or someone simply plotting the quickest route to their next meeting.

The fact that we’ve got to this stage is thanks to Simon Duquénoy, one of our Senior Technical Product Managers. He began to be interested in the idea of a map for those with CVD when his son had trouble with his geography school work. Simon told me: “It was very unlike him to get his geography homework wrong and it turned out he was getting confused between the colours of certain map features, so I began to wonder whether it was something Ordnance Survey could help address.”

Simon started by raising awareness of the impairment using software to show how our mapping and map covers appear to those with the extreme forms of CVD. As an example, our famous pink covered OS Landranger Maps actually appear to be blue to 1% of men.

He was then able to set up a user group made up of Ordnance Survey staff with various degrees of CVD, and working with our Cartographic Design team, came up with different prototypes for them to test under exam conditions.

The most significant feedback from the user group was the importance of familiarity. CVD users were familiar with certain feature depictions, such as road classification colours, and so were thrown by colours chosen based purely on the science of CVD. The group was actually the most positive about the pallet with specially optimised versions of familiar feature colours.

Now after 2 years of research and development, Simon thinks we’ve got a colour palette that works.

Another example of the default style.

Another example of the default style.

And how it looks with the CVD friendly style.

And how it looks with the CVD friendly style.

“We’re very proud of the progress we have made towards developing a single colour palette, which has required painstaking research and a real understanding of user needs. It will help make our maps more accessible and mean that a skill as simple yet crucial as map reading will soon be within everyone’s reach.  We also hope that it will inspire other people to think about CVD in their designs.”

What do you think of the new designs? We’re keen to know what you think, both if you’re someone with CVD or not.

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