5th December 2014

Cartographic Design Principles: understanding of user requirements


Originally posted by the Cartographic Design Team on the Ordnance Survey blog.

This is the first in an eight part series of blog posts taking a closer look at our Cartographic Design Principles. Devised by our CartoDesign team, the principles are intended as a useful guide for anybody making a map, from Ordnance Survey customers to budding neo-cartographers. In this post we shine the spotlight on the first principle in our list, Understanding of user requirements.

Remove confusion by understanding your users’ needs

Remove confusion by understanding your users’ needs

Understanding of user requirements

This is absolutely vital to the success of any map! An effectively designed map is one in which the intended message is clearly communicated to the map user. This is only possible by fully understanding what that message is and how the map is intended to be used.

The design process must start by identifying and fully understanding real user needs. What information does the map user require? How will they be using the map? It is important that all design decisions along the way consider the answers to these questions in order to create the map that the user really wants. A user will often evaluate a product or service by comparing their response to their expectation.

Focusing on needs allows the map design to concentrate on the elements that deliver the most value to the user, hence the greater chance of making the map a success; similarly it will lead to the avoidance of including unnecessary information that will only result in distraction or cause confusion.

Extract from our ‘Engineering the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games’ map made in collaboration with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)

Extract from our ‘Engineering the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games’ map made in collaboration with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)


In the CartoDesign team, we regularly get requests from other departments to produce a variety of maps for many different needs. In order to ensure that we have all the information we require before we do a job, we have devised a simple questionnaire that we send to the customer. The information from this allows us to better understand their requirements and therefore enables us to produce a map that fits their needs.

Since using this questionnaire we have found it extremely effective and it has been received well by those filling it in too. As well as enabling us to stay focused on what’s important and deliver the right maps to our customers, we have also found that using this resource has increased our efficiency. We spend less time chasing the customer for information and we are less likely to need to make amendments as we have all the information we need, and a better grasp of the customer’s wishes, before we start.

You can view and download a version of our questionnaire here and we would highly recommend it as a great way to fulfill this principle.

We were inspired to create our questionnaire after Chris from our team attended the 2013 ESRI International User Conference and saw a great presentation by Vanessa Bauman, HDR Alaska.

Next week we will take a closer look at Consideration of display format.

Photo credit for bear image: Produced with permission from Living with Wildlife Foundation.