My job as a cartographic designer. What is it that I really do?

The hardest part of being any kind of cartographer or my official title, cartographic design consultant, is telling people what it is that I do! This is common problem with most people I have spoken to in our industry, see Andy Woodruff‘s wonderful post ‘Web cartography… that’s like Google Maps, right?

I normally just agree that I make OS maps. But in truth the OS maps you see in the shops I have had very little involvement with in the past decade of working at Ordnance Survey.

As part of a Product Development team, my job now would be more to work out how to replace these products with better ones or improve them. Although the main focus of work, and the big business for companies like OS and anyone in the ‘geo’ industry is in data, services, solutions, science and analytics. We possess, and the modern tech world is increasingly capturing, lots of geographic data (geodata) and in the past decade other sectors, such as insurance, finance, banking, commerce and many more, have all realised how much more they can do with their analytics by adding more about location. Knowing where people frequently stop off on their way to and from work, and why, is useful for strategic placement of advertisements or knowing where to open a new coffee shop. Can you believe that until very recently banks did not consider location when managing the cashflow of their ATMs?!*

Geodata outside of the traditional paper map is increasingly a role and responsibility for a cartographer as can be read in my paper ‘The Relevance of a Cartographer in a Data-Centric Marketplace’.

My day varies from week to week. Much of the past few years has been spent creating and promoting stylesheets for our data products and web maps but there have always been other simultaneous and exciting projects on the go, for example bespoke mapping for events like the Keswick Mountain Festival. We work on many such collaborations and I even worked on some invisible maps that are an additional security feature on the latest British passports. But away from maps, my main job of the past few years has been working out how to improve our content data, products and services for a better and more integrated user experience. The beauty of working in Product Development is that I’m always working on something new and that keeps me enthused.

Modern day work is often criticised for being without working hours and destroying work-life balance. Without wanting to be political, this is perhaps most valid and vivid right now in the case of junior doctors in the UK, many of whom are frequently working hours equivalent to that of two or more full-time jobs with infrequent sleep patterns thus putting patient lives at risk not to mention destroying their own.

However in tech and development industries the blurring of the boundaries between work and non-work hours has led to something of a freedom and greater expression. Sure we have our deadlines and sure they sometimes feel ludicrous, but our job is also very forgiving. I am working with a freedom that allows me to put some fun into my work and allows me to experiment and fail. A more-relaxed working environment goes hand-in-hand with a growing work-related interest in the hours of our personal life. Cartography and geographic information is a passion. And so often it is a passion we have stumbled across by accident. Nearly everyone in the field, from the most well-known academics to application developers to geodata enthusiasts, is frequently experimenting and sharing in their own time** as well as at work.

I have some very recent examples that I’m very excited about and I hope to be able to share with you in the not too distant future.

*There are a number of reasons for this and exact data on this is hard to obtain. See Erol Genevois et al.
** As well as mainstream social media such as Twitter, you can get involved by looking up things such as MapTime, QGIS User Group, OpenDataCamp, CartoTalk to mention but a few.


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