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Better Mapping with QGIS

On Wednesday 2nd November we hosted a British Cartographic Society (BCS) event at Ordnance Survey (OS). Better Mapping with QGIS was a one day event that introduced the fundamentals of cartographic design and culminated in a hands-on QGIS workshop.

We were thrilled to have a packed lecture theatre and the day kicked off with Alex Kent, President of the BCS, welcoming everyone and introducing the agenda for the day. Brief presentations about open data and open source software followed before Mary Spence MBE, past president of the BCS, discussed the fundamentals of cartographic design. Mary took the audience on a tour through great maps and what makes them work, balanced against examples of poor maps and why they don’t before introducing the basic design principles that should be considered.


Paul Naylor, Cartographic Designer at OS and chair of the BCS Programme Committee, then introduced a map critique session. Critique can be a really important and useful part of the map design process. Accepting critique of your own work can help make it better, giving you an edge whilst forcing you to think about the way you approach design. Giving critique allows you to use your design skills to dissect a map, in turn helping others to improve as mapmakers.

After grabbing refreshments we split into groups and had 40 minutes to discuss three different maps. The idea was to apply the learning from Mary’s talk and analyse the maps based on the design principles, what works well, what doesn’t and what could be improved. It was a great exercise to get people talking and applying design thinking, and would prove useful for the afternoon workshop. At the end of the session, Paul took to the stage once more to sum up the room’s views on the three maps.

Nicholas Duggan, Principal Geospatial Specialist at Garsdale Design, then introduced QGIS before lunch, showcasing the core cartographic functionality. QGIS is a free and open source Geographic Information System (GIS). The developers are constantly adding new functionality with frequent releases and they really value cartographic improvements so it is increasingly popular for map-makers. The ability to add things like draw effects and colour blend modes are a real benefit to cartographers and can often negate or minimise the need to use graphic design software.


After lunch delegates were given a folder of open data and set a map challenge; design a topographic basemap and add an additional layer of open data to produce a thematic map, considering and applying those all important cartographic principles. The experts were all on hand for the afternoon and took lots of questions from around the room, there was lots of interest in QGIS and some had never used it before. All delegates got a free book about cartography so they can continue to benefit from the learning and keep producing great maps.

The event was a real success and we were pleased to see a real mix of people with interest in both cartography, GIS and open source. Amongst the varied audience we had experienced cartographers, software developers, teachers and academics. Keep your eyes on our website and follow us on Twitter to keep up to date with the latest industry news and be the first to hear about future events.

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