Behind the scenes: creating new map symbols

Last week we announced the winners of our map symbol competition with the One Show. The six new symbols due to hit the maps include skate park, solar farms, toilets, art galleries, kite-surfing and electric car charging points.

Four of the winners with their map symbols

Four of the winners with their map symbols

The competition gave viewers a unique opportunity to play a part in the future of our maps, with the potential to add 10 new symbols to the 90+ we already use. Map symbols help you spot the key navigational points, point out useful information around you and help you to plan your trips. They’re not only on paper maps, but also on our range of mobile apps and online products. And as times change, so does the need for new map symbols, such as solar farms or electric car charging points.

The new symbol designs each hold different challenges for us. First of all, a decision needed to be made on which symbols will appear on which maps. OS Explorer? OS Landranger? Tour Maps? You can see from our current map symbol sheets how symbols shown vary between maps.  Then there was the challenge of adding the new symbols to the maps.

New toilet map symbol

New toilet map symbol

Many rural public toilets are already shown on our maps, to help those exploring the remote parts of Britain to plan their next stopping point! They’re currently indicated with the symbol ‘PC’ which has become rather outdated since it was introduced in the 1970s, and people tend to think of a personal computer rather than a loo when they hear the term! As they’re already on the map, it’s (just!) a task for our cartographers to update the symbols on the relevant maps. Although each symbol (and there are over 3,000 public toilets marked on our maps), will need to be checked to make sure it is placed correctly and doesn’t cover any other important information.

New electric car charging point map symbol

New electric car charging point map symbol

Electric car charging points are a whole different story though. We don’t currently collect the data for the location of these points. One of our surveyors, Roger, went out with the One Show team to capture the first ever electric car charging point for our maps last month. The point was at Romsey Rapids, just down the road from our Southampton head office. That could be a good pub quiz question in the future! It will take significant time for us to survey all the car charging points that are available on a national level, so we’re also considering whether to use data from a reliable source. If we do this, we’ll still need to verify the data to ensure it is the same quality as our other data. We know this information could be of interest to local government or businesses who are considering introducing electric cars. We’ll let you know more about our plans for this symbol when we have more information.

Roger surveying an electric car charging point

Roger surveying an electric car charging point

On top of that, the cartography team has 296 major art galleries to add to the map, 23 kite-surfing sites (defined in conjunction with British Kite Surfing), 1,601 solar farms and 611 skate parks. We’ve also discovered some fascinating facts whilst looking at the symbols:

  • There are no active solar farms in Scotland (although several are being built), while the Isle of Wight has 10!
  • The most northerly skate park is on the Isle of Arran.
  • The most northerly art galleries are on the Orkney Islands (there are two there).

There is now a lot of work to carry out to bring these new symbols to our paper maps. The time to make the changes will depend on the series of maps and the volumes that we sell, our Explorer and Landranger series can take a number of years to be updated.  The first maps with new symbols that you’ll see in the shops will be the Tour Maps in February 2016. This is because we’re already updating those and we can fit these changes into the new print schedule. You may start to see the changes on our digital products before this date, and you can see all of them in our special interactive map here.

Regardless of all the work now needed, we had a fantastic time filming with the One Show. They went up in one of our planes to see how we capture aerial imagery, saw our surveyors and cartographers at work and caught up with our new CEO Nigel Clifford. You can see some behind the scenes shots below, or visit our Flickr album to see more. Enjoy – and keep an eye out for those new map symbols!

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