Ordnance Survey: not just paper maps

National mapping agency Ordnance Survey has launched a new brand identity which aims to better reflect its digital and data services and appeal to a younger audience. We spoke to marketing and communications director Katie Powell, who led the project, about the new look…

National mapping agency Ordnance Survey has launched a new brand identity which aims to better reflect its digital and data services and appeal to a younger audience. We spoke to marketing and communications director Katie Powell, who led the project, about the new look…

The brand refresh was a collaboration between OS and London agency Other and is the first Ordnance Survey has undertaken in 15 years. While the organisation has traditionally been best known for its paper maps, OS says these make up only five percent of its revenue today – the bulk of its work is providing geographic data for businesses, government agencies and local authorities, as well as online maps and databases for the public.


Central to the identity is a new logo, which features the letters ‘O’ and ‘S’ above the brand name. In most cases, the O will be filled with a map showing OS’ head office in Southampton and the S with a map of a rural location in Yorkshire, designed to reflect the organisation’s work mapping Britain’s towns, cities and countryside, but Powell says maps will change in some communications and to reflect users’ locations in certain digital products.


Ordnance Survey’s previous logo


The symbol replaces OS’ previous marque, made up of an O and S with an arrow in between (pictured above) and three versions have been designed: a standard one for use in most applications, a richer one with more detailed maps for large-scale use and a smaller, simplified marque for use at very small sizes, such as on the spines of maps:

Clockwise from top left: standard logo, rich logo for large-scale use and a smaller version for use at small sizes, such as on the spine of a map

“It was very important that the new logo worked in different scales, and reflected our work mapping urban and rural areas,” explains Powell. “The major problem with the previous branding was that it didn’t work in the digital space – the flat arrow just said paper maps, as people are used to seeing 3D ones in digital navigation,” she adds.

The brand’s official colours are midnight blue, rubine red and charcoal. A red and blue version of the logo will appear online and on maps, merchandise, uniforms and communications, while charcoal and white will be used against photographic, brightly coloured or contrasting backgrounds. The red and blue signify navigation and discovery in mapmaking and are also based on OS’ previous logo, explains Powell.

White and charcoal versions of the logo can also be used on brightly coloured or photographic backgrounds

Office graphics at OS’ head office


“We tested our colours and although not everyone liked the pink, it was very well recognised, so we had to balance keeping that recognition with modernising colours to make it look a little more contemporary,” she says. The idea was also to create a flexible, dynamic logo which, like Google’s, could work in a variety of colour combinations, adds Powell.

A bespoke typeface, OS Meadows, was created specifically for use within the logo and will be used alongside OS Gill Sans for headlines, titles and apps, and PT Sans Narrow, Source Sans Pro or Arial for body copy. A secondary colour palette helps group the company’s services into three core areas: mapping, data and solutions, signified by orange, deep purple and a lighter blue respectively, and new maps will be colour coded to help users distinguish between products (for example, green for road maps and orange for ‘explorer’ maps).


OS’ interactive iPad app


The new branding also includes a greater focus on photography – Ordnance Survey is launching a competition which will see winning images submitted by the public applied to the covers of paper maps, and is working with landscape photographer Charlie Waite to establish a bank of original imagery, some of which can already be seen in its head office. Detailed guidelines on the use of stock photography recommend natural shots, aerial views and the use of clever cropping, while avoiding over stylised images or shots of people looking directly into the camera.

Powell says it is the first time photography has played a key role in the organisation’s identity, adding: “We’re a very technical organisation, but I think photography will help us capture people’s imagination and be more emotive. There’s going to be much more of a focus on it [in branding] from now on.”

Ordnance Survey’s new paper maps, colour coded by type and with photographic front covers

The rebrand was launched in response to research carried out last year with over 2000 consumers, which revealed OS was best known by males over 55 and while respected, wasn’t seen as ‘digital’ or ‘iconic’.

“We’ve done very little with the brand in the past 15 years and while it was well loved and used, it wasn’t well presented to the younger generation. It needed to work more effectively in the digital space and convey its message to a broader audience, modernising but still staying true to the company’s roots,” she explains.

As well as a new visual identity, the brand has launched a new strapline, ‘OS. Finding a way.’ and a new mission statement: ‘OS provides mapping that informs, guides and inspires’. Over time, Powell says Ordnance Survey is keen to be known simply as OS, but adds: “there needs to be a period of transition. I don’t think we’re ready for that just yet.”

It’s a sensitive redesign, presenting a much more contemporary image for the brand without straying too far from OS’ previous identity. “We tried out some more radical looks, but they didn’t sit well with employees or the public,” adds Powell.

The new logo is far better suited to digital applications and, coupled with new photography guidelines and colour coding, should help provide a more flexible yet consistent visual system. While the new look will be rolled out across all internal and external communications, Powell says it has been a conservative exercise. “In many cases, we’ve replaced things as we’ve run out, and we’ve been very careful not to spend money wastefully,” she adds.

Ordnance Survey planes

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