2013 ESRI International User Conference

One of the largest events in the GIS calendar, our Cartographic Design team were represented at the event for the first time when Christopher attended the conference in San Diego from 8–12 July. The event offered the latest updates on what is happening in the world of ESRI software as well as many themed presentation sessions over the five days.

The week began with the plenary session including highlights of what’s new in the ESRI product suite and case studies including Philadelphia Police Department using GIS to match up burglary patterns and addresses of known or suspected criminals and to create predictive maps and hot spots to advise police where best to be deployed for maximum effect. Many of the topics covered in the plenary session have been used in the online GIS of Horry County, some of which has public access.

Sam Pitroda discussing a national GIS model for India during the plenary session

Also in the plenary, Satyanarayan (Sam) Pitroda spoke excellently on GIS development in India. Whilst many of the world’s populations are decreasing and elderly, India’s is young and growing. The challenge, as Dr. Pitroda – advisor to the Indian Government – put it, is to feed them and to train them with the best education possible. Whilst worldwide talent is preoccupied with solving the problems of the rich, in India they are training their own young talent in GIS to help tackle the problems of the poor. He continued to describe how India needs a standard and socially-inclusive method of connectivity, access, organisation, policy and innovation and how all of these are related to GIS.

Unsurprisingly it was and his team of school children who headlined the plenary sessions. He gave an open interview to ESRI president Jack Dangermond and described the work that the foundation is doing to help children in deprived areas learn and appreciate the value of GIS. His genuine desire to help give children the platform to build a better life from really shone through. He has a unique ability to spot potential and possibility, even comparing ghetto codes being used to protect gang territory to businesses writing code and protecting intellectual property. He is giving GIS the same attention he gave science and robotics with as currently being aired on entertainment television channel E! Whereas boxing brought his home neighbourhood of East Los Angeles a champion in Oscar de la Hoya, Will hopes that his STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) campaign can see such a deprived area produce the next Facebook or Google.

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Styling maps made easy

At Ordnance Survey we are committed to ensuring that our products are as easy to use as possible.

There is a growing need for our customers and partners to visually present our vector products in a suitable style, increasingly when it comes to serving mapping over the internet. For example, many companies serve Ordnance Survey maps via their Intranet service. Setting up these types of web-based services can be quite a time consuming process. Once all the geographic data has been loaded into a suitable database it can often take a while to apply the cartography – the visual portrayal of the data.

Understanding this, in December last year we released a set of Styled Layer Descriptors (SLDs) as one approach to help reduce the time and resource needed to properly apply cartographic styling. SLDs are commonly used in conjunction with a web server to style data for a web map service (WMS). Our SLDs have been developed in an open structured format and can also be converted to desktop GIS readable style sheets, enabling vector products to reflect the familiar Ordnance Survey look and feel.

Making sense of the data – styling Meridian 2 using our SLDs (raw data on the left vs. styled data on the right)

The SLDs can be downloaded free of charge under an open license which allows the modification of map features e.g. changing the colour of roads. They are available for all the products that we serve through our own WMS, OS OnDemand, including OS MasterMap Topography Layer and OS VectorMap Local.

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Web Cartography for National Spatial Data Infrastructure’s Belgium, Leuven

Last month Paul attended a workshop on Web Cartography for National Spatial Data Infrastructure’s at the Faculty Club in Leuven, Belgium.

© Faculty Club 2013

Leuven is situated about 25 kilometres east of Brussels and is home to Anheuser-Busch In Bev, the world’s largest brewer group. The workshop saw a number of National Mapping Agencies (NMA’s) and other organisations get together to present on a number of topics around web cartography.

The workshop began with Sebastien Mustière from Institut Geographique National (IGN), France, giving the first presentation on the work done through their ‘Géoportail’, a web mapping service that publishes maps and aerial imagery ofFrance and its territories.

Sebastian spoke about the necessity for consistent styling and representation of features across all map scales focussing on the need to maintain user experience. He highlighted this by showing some work IGN have done to standardise map legends and to automatically derive up-to-date vector maps from vector geographic databases.

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Map design: a list of helpful online resources

Whether they’ve been making maps for 20 years or two weeks, just like any designer, cartographers need inspiration when starting their latest project.  Inspiration can come from many places and take many forms.  Here at Ordnance Survey we use a range of resources and we want to share some of them with you.  In this post we list several online resources that can help with your latest map design; from choosing the right colour palette to selecting great fonts.  Some of these resources are specific to map-making and some are more general.  It is worth noting that they are not tools for making maps but tools to help with the map design process.

Although by no means a definitive list, these are some of the tools and resources that we refer to and use regularly and we have sorted them into four categories: colours, fonts, symbols and map inspiration:



The use of colour is very often fundamental to the success of a map.  Colour can help with many elements of map design from improving visual contrast to simply catching the eye.   

ColorBrewer 2.0 is a great tool for selecting colour schemes that are specific to maps, especially helpful when mapping various classes of data.

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Michael Palin: A Life in Maps

Michael Palin talking to BCS members

We recently attended a talk by Michael Palin at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) in London. Hosted by the British Cartographic Society (BCS), this talk was billed as the headline event in a year that marks the society’s 50th anniversary.

Upon our rain-drenched arrival, we took to our seats in the impressive Ondaatje Theatre and waited intently as BCS president, Peter Jones introduced the guest speaker to the stage.  As former president of the Royal Geographical Society, Michael Palin was in familiar surroundings. He began his hour-long talk by reciting memories of his childhood when he would spend long periods of time pensively poring over maps and atlases, overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the world.  It was these graphical depictions of the world that ignited his desire to travel, something for which he is now notorious.  His love of maps was evident as he told of one atlas that he owns and treasures, a family heirloom which he has had refurbished. Of the maps that accompany him on his travels he said, “maps, like notebooks, are the raw materials of my work, constant companions.” 

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Medical cartography exhibition opens

In 1854 a severe outbreak of cholera swept through the Soho district of London, resulting in the death of hundreds of people. Many believed the cause of deaths were linked to ‘bad air’, however a physician named John Snow was determined to get to the bottom of the devastating outbreak.

John Snow strongly believed that the deaths were linked to the local areas water supply and began to mark the locations of each death as a dot on a map centred on Bond Street (now Broadwick Street). The map highlighted large clusters of fatalities in the vicinity of the Bond Street pump, from where residents used to get their water from. Snow suspected that this water pump was the source of the outbreak.

In order to add more proof to his theory Snow added a further line to his map – an irregular shaped loop that marked the boundary between the Broad Street pump and other water pumps in the area. The new boundary line showed the residents and workers who could access the Broad Street pump the quickest.

The map now clearly displayed that the majority of deaths had occurred within the drawn boundary, reinforcing the fact that the Broad Street pump was the source. This map became the central piece of evidence that convinced the authorities of cholera’s waterborne transmission and of their need to improve the sewer system.

Image from Wikipedia

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Mapping out our history with OS OpenData

Recently we told you about the new OS OpenData Award that we’re providing to the British Cartographic Society, offering you the chance to win an Apple iPad.  Today we bring you a guest blog from one of our Cartographic Designers, Charley Glynn, who has used one of our freely available products to map all five of our head offices from 1791 to the present day:

As cartographic designers,my team and I get a lot of opportunity to design and develop topographic maps.  We’re very familiar with making leisure maps and creating custom styles for contextual maps which is why we are particularly excited when we get the opportunity to submit work into map galleries.  They give us the chance to build on our own map ideas, exercise our creativity and try out new tools and techniques. One such gallery is being hosted at the FOSS4G 2013 conference, the global conference for free and open source software for geospatial use, organised by the Open Source Geospatial Foundation.  With that and our new BCS OS OpenData Award in mind I decided to take this opportunity to create something different from my ‘norm’.

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