25th February 2014

Cartography and the value of styling geodata


Today’s guest blog is from Ordnance Survey’s Cartographic Design team, highlighting the value of good cartographic design.

Cartographic design Samples

Applying cartographic styling to geodata makes that data immediately more valuable. It makes the data more efficient to interpret and easier to communicate to others. Good cartographic design may even allow developers to understand their data better and so be able to make better use of it and in turn create better applications.

It is said that design adds an extra dimension to a product (in this case geodata) by making it more aesthetic, usable and human.

Over the last couple of years we have been developing and applying our new corporate map styles which provide visual consistency to our portfolio of vector-based maps. These new styles have been applied to our OS VectorMap products as well as our other digital map products, Meridian 2 and Strategi.

We have developed a full colour style and a backdrop style, with the latter being designed for contextual basemaps that facilitate data overlays. We have applied an element of colour science to ensure that all map features take their place within a clear visual hierarchy whereby the features deemed most important will be perceived first.

Good cartography often takes many years of experience and yet national mapping agencies and cartographic publishing houses are now far from the sole users of geospatial data, so we have decided to share our know-how in the form of ready-made stylesheets. Even simply viewing data in a GIS can be improved by good cartographic styling.

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. Recognising this, we are working on a programme to make cartographic styling easier for developers and our digital product and web service users.

In December 2012, we began releasing Styled Layer Descriptor files (SLDs). These are an open standard for styling within web map services but can also be converted for GIS use. Forth Valley GIS adopted the SLDs into their own service in 2013 and are seeing a time-efficiency gain as well as freeing up their developers and GIS support staff to work on other tasks.

SDL styling


For our customers who are GIS users, we have been tidying up our MapInfo and GML offerings but perhaps more usefully we are also now distributing all of our digital map products with ESRI Layer files, and we are not stopping there: In the coming weeks we hope to launch Quantum GIS (QGIS) styles (QML) for all the digital map products within OS OpenData, with more to follow in the future.

To improve accessibility we are currently involved in a project to improve the products’ webpages. On these we aim to have all of the stylesheets (SLDs, ESRI Layer files, QML and probably more) downloadable from the same relative page for each product and we have also written some style guides where appropriate. Stylesheets will also be made available on our GitHub page.

In the meantime, the SLDs can be found on our website, here.

Cartographic Design team