9
Aug
2017
3

Carto Design to GeoDataViz: An evolution

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the work of our Cartographic Designers. The team have been posting a variety of articles here since 2013 from reviews of events to sharing helpful resources. The team recently made some changes to the way in which they work and the work that they undertake, including a name change; from Cartographic Design to GeoDataViz.

In this post the team will consider some of the reasons why, and what the changes mean for them, their work and our customers.

This visualisation, which we created in June 2016, was the trigger for us to review our team and led to the changes that we have made subsequently. It was the first time that we had published a geographic visualisation that doesn’t contain any topographic data. We simply plotted the GPS data using colour techniques that help represent the density. This method is much more abstract (possibly considered as more art than science) than our traditional topographic maps but we felt it gave us a more engaging and visually stunning visualisation.

Around the same time there was lots of talk about data visualisation as a discipline and as an industry in its own right (which has continued). Over recent years there has been a huge increase in the amount of people creating data visualisations and there is a very apparent convergence of many disciplines. These include design, cartography, user experience, data science, game development, software development, data journalism and many more. We fit firmly in this space and have experienced this trend first hand.

Changing requirements

It has also become clear to us that our customers requirements are changing, often in-line with technology developments and current trends. What our customers require nowadays is often more than a map containing buildings, roads and woodland. We are seeing an increase in the demand for thematic and statistical mapping, as well as other forms of chart, graph or table and sometimes the best answer is simply textual or numerical.

Increasingly we need to be able to present data (usually geographic) to our users in many different ways, methods that are sometimes new to Ordnance Survey. As Cartographic Designers we feel we are perfectly placed to do this and a few changes to our team will allow us to deliver more effectively.

The same underlying design principles

More than ever before our job involves telling stories and identifying patterns and trends in data; our work has become more journalistic in its nature. However, the objective of our work hasn’t changed, our aim is still to communicate geographic data in the most effective way. The underlying design principles are still the same. We are simply evolving our craftsmanship as the role of a modern day cartographer continues to change.

When talking about our move to GeoDataViz we often cite the fact that we have the same skillsets, are using largely the same software but have a different mindset and different approach. We explored this briefly in a blog post about one of our recent projects.

In the past few months we have had the pleasure of meeting with the data visualisation teams from the Office of National Statistics and the Financial Times. These teams are doing some fantastic work at the forefront of data journalism and it was interesting to note how many similarities there are between all three of our teams. The changes that we are making are certainly not unique and it is an exciting time for anybody working in data visualisation; in its many forms and guises. This is a field that is starting to mature and for us its great to be working in it from the rather unique position of traditional map-makers.

What are we working on?

As well as the changes we have discussed above, we have also changed the way we work as a team. We now work in sprints which help us stay focussed and deliver at pace. Regular showcases help us communicate with the rest of the business and discover new opportunities. We are also starting to see a difference in our work output and one of our key challenges is to create consistency throughout our portfolio of visualisations.

Our recent work has included:

Visualising spatial temporal data – We have been exploring different methods for animating geographic data over time.

Supporting start-ups – We offer visualisation support to all members of the Geovation Hub. As an example, we have recently helped Flock with the map design for their new app which includes visualisng the inherent risk of topographic features.

Annotation design – Inspired by this great post we have been looking at the design of annotations on maps as well as other charts and graphs.

Designing Augmented Reality (AR) experiences – Technological advances are creating many new ways to interact with data. We have recently helped design a consumer AR experience that enables people discover what’s around them and improve their sense of place.

Offline mapping with vector tiles – We have worked with customers to develop methods to get all of our map data onto a mobile device. We have also evaluated various online tools for styling vector tile data.

Visualising the Internet of Things and smart cities – Focussing largely on CityVerve we have designed ways to effectively visualise data for various smart city use cases. This has included temporal chart and dashboard design.

Developing a GeoDataViz Toolkit – Our team has always played a key role in supporting customers in visualising OS data more effectively. We have released cartographic design principles, cartographic styleheets, visual deconstructions and a host of other learning resources. We are currently focused on creating more resources and assets and combining them into a GeoDataViz Toolkit. We will be releasing more news about this shortly.

The importance of cartography

We are living in a time where maps are ubiquitous in our everyday lives. More maps are being made by more people than at any time in history. The ability to access and collect data and the ability to make maps has been largely democratised so cartography as a discipline is arguably more important than ever. It’s important that cartographic design professionals continue to share their knowledge and expertise and we are very supportive of the cartographic bodies within the UK.

Paul is programme chair and council member in the British Cartographic Society and so is at the core of shaping upcoming events. Its promising to note that the changes we are witnessing and making here in the GeoDataViz team are being reflected more broadly in the cartographic communities. A recent event at the Geovation Hub was a great indicator of this. Chris Wesson hosted a fantastic evening of lightning talks all focussed on different map design tools and the variety on show was telling.

The job of a modern day cartographer is varied and requires many skills.

Get in touch with the team

Email: cartodesign@os.uk

Twitter using the hashtag #cartoclinic: @cartocraftsman @charley_glynn

View the team’s Flickr gallery

If your work involves cartography or data visualisation we would love to know if this post has resonated with you and your recent experiences. If you have anything to add to the discussion then please do so in the comments below.

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