Name: Clare Seldon
Company: Steer Davies Gleave
The story so far:
Degree: BSc Cartography, Oxford Brookes University
Pindar Graphics: 2001 – 2008
Steer Davies Gleave: 2008 – present
So you graduated in cartography…what next?
After university I was employed by Pindar Graphics (now Pindar Creative) in Aylesbury, where I worked for 7 years. I started out as a cartographer in a team of 4 people, developing my skills in graphic design, as well as web mapping, working on interactive online transport maps. I worked closely with the web team, advising them on the cartographic aspect of design, so I learnt HTML and some other really useful web development skills. My A-levels were in geography, media studies and maths but I’m naturally more artistic.
Cartography is a perfect fit of the two sides of my personality.
Who do you work for?
In early 2008 I moved to Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), and I now work in the Integrated Design team. I work alongside web and 3D designers, the CAD team, and graphic designers on projects varying from technical transport planning to more soft-measure outputs like ‘way finding’ and signage.
SDG are an independent global transport consultancy. A lot of people at SDG have been here for a long time. There’s not a high turnover of staff - there are directors here who set the business up 32 years ago.
What do you work on?
Our work ranges from large infrastructure projects to smaller soft-measure (or advisory) implementations. I’m currently working on a large project for Swindon Travel Choices, getting people to travel more sustainably. We do transport advice work for lots of major events too, for clients like The FA, Olympic Authorities and UEFA. We also incorporate modelling of pedestrian flows in new sports stadiums, planning how people will get all the way from their seats to the nearest transport hub. I have worked on quite a few totem pole maps for various way-finding projects – the signs you see in the pavement indicating local landmarks and directions to various places.
As a consultancy, it’s not just about the final map. It’s about planning and understanding how people move about in places.
We recently made guidelines for implementing the signs for Network Rail. As well as designing the look of the signs we wrote the guidelines on the best places to position signs and how to direct people, considering how people relate to things in spaces. For example, after going up an escalator, we monitor where they are most likely to turn, and advise how to place signs to influence the flow of pedestrians depending on the signs they encounter. It’s very rewarding to implement a scheme and witness it working and improving public spaces without the public even realising!
Who else do you work with?
On my team I’m the only cartographer. There are two 3D specialists, three graphic designers, one web person and two urban designers, and the Director of the team.
What do you spend your time doing?
My time is split between support for my transport colleagues' projects and my own clients' projects.
In my support role I produce maps as well as graphic outputs (schematics, cover designs, artwork etc) for reports and consultations managed by other SDG colleagues. I’ve got a lot of the same skills as graphic designers, and in fact I’ve trained some of the new graphic designers in cartography to develop their skills too. This work can be very demand responsive. You have to be willing to broaden your skills and put the hours in when the deadline requires it.
When I work on my own clients’ projects, I manage the project timelines and can coordinate the team around their best skills. The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) team assist me on the analytical side of mapping – finding out which types of people live where, to assist in targeting our projects . We then take that data and design the maps to get the message across to the user in the most appropriate way.
You make maps – ever get to go anywhere interesting on the map?
There’s quite a few opportunities for travel with work. The major transport authority for Rome – ATAC – are one of my clients. We created an automated mapping system for them, and then went over to train them to use the system. I also travel around the UK to see clients, and there are lots of opportunities in the company to go to our other offices (16 globally) for six months or so. We have offices in Brazil and Canada, both large areas in terms of development work.
Tell me how to make a map…
You have to start with finding data, whether through a GIS system, Ordnance Survey open source data or OpenStreetMap (a huge new movement which involves people mapping the area around them for themselves, and like Wikipedia all can contribute). We then collate the data and manipulate it in the design studio.
We use Adobe Creative Suite mainly, backed up with ArcGIS and MapInfo. From there, we apply a map style. Sometimes we have to match a brand, by using a particular colour or font (for example for Transport for London we use New Johnston font, which was created for TFL in the 1920s and is very recognisable, especially on London Buses and the Underground network). If there are no design guidelines we usually test a few out and involve the client in the early stages to ensure we get their approval first before finalising the whole map. We then output to any format the user requires, JPEG or PNG for online, or PDF for sending to the printers. Less projects are printed now than they used to be, with the huge popularity of handheld devices, but the process to create the map is the same.
You’re the first cartographer I’ve come across, is the industry big?
80% of the people I worked with originally were ex Oxford Brookes students like me. The industry is quite small like that. Upon graduation, there were a handful of key employers all the students went to each year.
It’s a small world and you do tend to bump into the same people all the time.
What are the job options?
Working for a well-established cartographic house like Ordnance Survey you have less influence over the styling, so your design role is less, but it’s a huge institution, and very well respected in the industry. The same is true of The AA and Collins Bartholomew’s, other big employers.
In smaller companies you have more control over the design output, and can build the house style. That can be very rewarding.
After university, lots of my fellow cartography graduates went to work for The AA or into the GIS side – working for industry suppliers of GIS (e.g. MapInfo and ESRI) so they work more on developing the geographic software rather than producing maps. There are lots of maps that go into publications like travel guides, many of which are outsourced to freelancers. Lots of people go into freelance work once they’ve found their feet in the business. It’s more difficult and riskier generally day to day of course, but if you manage to get some good clients then you’ll get repeat work every season.
One question that a lot of people ask is “Hasn’t everywhere already been mapped?”. But there’s never a map showing exactly what people want. Even if something’s already been mapped it can always be mapped again and portrayed in a different style and showing different thematic information. When I was looking at cartography jobs before SDG, I interviewed at Dorling Kindersley, who produce a huge range of guide books and during university holidays I used to work for Natural England in Peterborough, mapping Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
You’re a member of the British Cartographic Society – what’s that all about?
I’ve been involved with the British Cartographic Society (BCS) since university, in quite a few voluntary roles. I used to help coordinate the Awards each year, and now due to my web skills, I run the BCS Website and social network feeds. I also volunteer, lecturing at the Better Mapping Seminars we host, and also go into schools to teach about how maps can be used in emergency planning. Our current Restless Earth Workshop for Year 10s concentrates on the Japanese Tsunami in 2011. We study maps for the morning, and by the end of the session they have to produce a map to say where they would have put the emergency services, and work together in teams to agree a strategy and use the map information to help them analyse the situation. It teaches them how to use a map for emergency planning and tests their ability to work in a team. Going into a school and teaching was new to me, and I get a lot from it.
People aren’t introduced enough to cartography as a career option.
I would definitely recommend that anyone interested in cartography should join the British Cartographic Society. The Society also have lots of useful resources available. It’s a small industry so being a member of the society can get you familiar with what’s out there and help you explore the opportunities linked to the profession. There are so many technological changes in the industry – with OpenStreetMap, and developments from Google Maps – it’s good to be kept up to date.
Designing a map from scratch. I sit down, get the data, design an appealing style, get input from my colleagues and between us we develop something that is aesthetically pleasing and gets the message across clearly. It’s a good feeling to spend time doing that, particularly when at the end of it the client is happy and comes back for more.
And least favourite?
It’s getting better as I’m having more practice, but it’s probably the administrative side of a project with budgeting and finance challenges. Managing other people is also a big challenge. It’s so unknown. However hard you work and whatever plans you make, if you don’t get the team working together, it’s hard to get to the same end point. You have to know who’s doing what, and be ready to take control.
Anything you’d change about your job?
I would change the working hours. Officially it’s 9-5.30pm but that’s a rarity.
For the design team we often start nearer 10, as we’re in Central London but work much later. In reality I always work over 40 hours a week. The work is reactive and with different offices around the world we have to respond to them when they need us. If we’re working with the office in Vancouver, we’re leaving for home when they’re waking up. This can work very well sometimes as we can pass things over for when they start, but we still need to be able to speak to them on occasions to iron out any issues and this can sometimes mean working later.
My advice would be to try and have a broad range of different maps in your repertoire. I’ve gone into transport maps but there’s topographical, geological, interactive, tourist, hydrographical charts, and lots more. Look at a broad range to see what you really like.
I would also advise getting to know people in the industry. It really helps. We post jobs and student placements on the British Cartographic Society website so look out for things online. Attend events, there are lots of free ones in London and many events issue student grants to attend if there is a fee.