An Interview with HARVEY Maps CEO Adam King

Adam, you’re a part of the HARVEY Maps team, based in Doune, Perthshire in Scotland. It’s been an interesting journey for the company – what’s the story behind HARVEY Maps?

Map of Windermere showing contour linesThe story behind HARVEY Maps is indeed a remarkable one. The company was founded in 1977 by Susan and Robin Harvey when they identified a need for clear and detailed mapping for the sport of orienteering.

Over the 40 years or so since, the company’s focus has evolved to cover all aspects of providing maps for recreation in the outdoors, and the range on offer today is truly outstanding.

In 2019, our team completed a long-term goal of mapping all of Scotland’s Munros (mountains over 914m) and our latest book, The Munros, The Complete Collection of Maps, is in part a celebration of this and the journey the company has been on since 1983 when the first Munro was plotted.

On a personal level, my HARVEY journey is no less remarkable. It’s nearly 10 years since I joined the team as a cartographer, and this year sees me step up to Susan’s role as CEO as she begins her well-earned retirement. They certainly will be very big shoes to fill!

Tell us a little about the type of maps that you make 

Our maps cover outdoor activities such as walking, running and cycling. They are designed to aid the user in the exploration of the outdoors and withstand the rigours of the British weather.

As such, they are relatively large scale with all the detail a user needs to navigate and map read safely. Imagine you’re planning a good long walk around Snowdonia, or the Peak District, and you need a map – then we make maps for you.

We also make maps of National Trails and Long Distance Routes, such as the South West Coast Path, or Cotswold Way. These are unique because we break the map sheet down into panels to cover the highlighted route, meaning the walker only has to carry one or two maps to have the route covered in its entirety.

What are your most popular products? 

XT25 Superwalker Lake District Harvey MapsThe Cuillin, our Superwalker map (1:25,000 scale) of Skye, is very popular, and is renowned amongst walkers and climbers as the must-have map when tackling the tricky, but beautiful, Cuillin Ridge.

In our Trail Map series, the West Highland Way, South Downs Way and Pennine Way maps continue to be popular and our offering in that series is always growing.

The British Mountain Map of the Lake District (1:40,000) always sells well and our most recent map series, the Ultramap (1:40,000), has proven very popular – our customers love how small and convenient the finished map is without compromising on the detail!

Each of our four primary map series offers the customer something different. But we don’t just make maps! The Mazzle, our take on the map jigsaw puzzle, was first produced in 1980 and its popularity remains extremely high to this day.

I believe that HARVEY Maps’ printed maps have some very unique features – what are they, and why are they important?

All of our maps are designed with the user in mind. We show only those features that are useful when using the map outdoors, allowing us to remove much of the clutter that is irrelevant and confusing to the walker, such as parish boundaries.

A good chunk of our cartographic focus is spent on the representation of relief and the method by which we show contour lines is certainly unique. The contour interval on our maps is 15m, with an index contour line (every fifth contour line is thicker than the others) at 75m intervals.

St Ives mapping - South West Coast Path

Although this interval may seem unusual to people who are accustomed to contour lines every 10m, the resulting map is much clearer, especially in steep areas. Our contour lines are also coloured differently. Where the ground is predominantly exposed rock the contour lines change from brown to grey.

This symbology has proven very popular as it gives the user an added visual aid when they are using the map. On the British Mountain Map series, we go one step further and use layer colouring in addition to contour lines to depict relief. The effect this has on these maps is fantastic, and when viewing the map sheet as a whole, it becomes very easy to distinguish between valleys and mountain tops.

We also use a scale of 1:40,000 on some of our products. For sheet maps, this scale offers the perfect balance between map coverage and the detail we can show on the map.

For us, it is always about finding the best cartographic solution to ensure the map is clear and easy to read as well as pleasing on the eye. As the majority of our team are themselves walkers, we continue to refine our methods so that we can be sure each map that goes to print is ready to be used outdoors.

How do you resolve the challenge of using the synthetic Polyart material with helping to protect the environment?

The maps are printed on Polyart, a material that feels a lot like modern banknotes, and as such they are built to last. It is indeed a synthetic material, but as the maps are designed to be tough, light and waterproof, we believe this is the best way to give outdoor enthusiasts a map that is long lasting, reliable, fit for purpose and that will not fall apart when the conditions become tricky.

The impact our products have on the environment is very much at the forefront of our business and we have taken positive steps to change our packaging and branding.

However, there is always more we can do to reduce our consumption of disposable and single-use materials and we continue to look for innovative and attractive solutions so that our products fit in with the environment they are meant to be used in.

What are the challenges, and rewards, of this kind of map making?

Cape Wrath Ultra Map

There are always plenty of challenges facing us at HARVEY. These range from recruitment to marketing and everything in between! Cartography is being taught less and less at higher education institutions nowadays and this may impact future recruitment strategies but we are in a very fortunate position as we have a great team of experienced staff already in place.

On the production side, it remains a challenge to keep our map data up-to-date. We continue to plot new data as well as reprint all of our other titles in cycles so there is always plenty of work available to ensure our maps accurately reflect what is on the ground.

It is a great privilege to be involved in making maps that people use outdoors every day and for me, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. Mapmaking is as much an art as it is a science and it has been extremely rewarding to be involved in creative work of this type.

The process of making a map from scratch is lengthy but when the finished printed map returns from Dennis Maps, the feeling of satisfaction and pride in what we have achieved is always the same. The rewards of this are plain to see when we receive positive user feedback on our products.

What developments do you foresee in mapping, both in the near, and far, future? 

Hadrians Wall Map detailIt should come as no surprise that developments in mapping will be driven by the technology on offer now and in the future. The spectrum of mapping-related products is growing year by year. Although printed maps remain a large part of the public’s association with mapping, the move to augmented reality mapping apps (an interactive fusion of real world and computer world, such as walking route overlays on your device as you hold it up to the mountains in front of you) is a great example of innovation driven by technology.

For HARVEY Maps, keeping apace with technological change is in part a challenge but it is also exciting. It’s important that our data capture methods use future technologies efficiently (future developments in drone technology and legislation regarding their use, may be one example) but also that we get the most out of the data we already have.

Whichever way we pursue our own innovation in mapping, it is our belief that the basic principles of cartography should always remain. So long as we are making clear and detailed maps that are fit for purpose (whatever that may be in the future), then I am certain the future of mapping is a bright one.

All map images © HARVEY MAPS 2019

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