Tony Pearce is explaining how T-Kartor was founded when a group of Swedish orienteering enthusiasts started making maps for telephone directories back in 1985. “Orienteers are real map geeks—they put on every boulder and every tree,” he says. Tony should know a map geek when he sees one; he’s spent 18 years at the company and is now Vice President. Still headquartered in Sweden, T-Kartor employs over 100 people in five countries worldwide and focusses on two areas of business: defence mapping and city wayfinding.
T-Kartor’s strength is bringing together two traditionally separate fields of mapping, the design side and the database side. Tony sums this up as “large amounts of GIS data but with graphically pleasing outputs that are close to our customers’ needs”.
This dual ability has been crucial to the success of both sides of the business. Military map-making used to be very expensive and time-consuming, requiring thousands of separate maps to be updated separately. T-Kartor created a single database which it updates by collating all sorts of data, from aerial and satellite photography to eyes on the ground. The maps it produced for the Norwegian military have been held up as a gold standard by NATO, and the company recently won a big contract with the US military to map two thirds of the world in collaboration with the defence contractor, Harris.
On the wayfinding side, T-Kartor has made maps for the city authorities of New York, Toronto, Stockholm and London. These require wrangling large amounts of data while producing maps that are “very understandable, clear and accessible,” in Tony’s words. Any Londoner will have used T-Kartor’s Legible London maps, over 10,000 of which can be found across the capital outside underground stations or at cycle hire docking stations.
Distinctive features include 3D illustrations of buildings, the “5-minute walk” radius and “heads-up” rotation so you can always see what’s ahead of you in your direction of travel. They’re designed to “give people the confidence that they’ll never get lost and that it’s worth exploring new areas”, explains Tony.
Tony helped T-Kartor win the contract with TfL shortly after joining the company back in 2000. Still one of its biggest clients, TfL is the reason T-Kartor opened an office in London. “This office is our commitment to them,” says Tony. “We’ve got someone who can be close to them and be in their office within an hour.”
That someone is Matthew Bazylewskyj. Originally from New York, Matthew is one of T-Kartor’s two permanent staff in London, describing himself as “project manager, cartographer, surveyor and office manager”. T-Kartor moved into Workspace in 2013, initially to Kennington Park (they're now based at China Works) for its proximity to TfL’s HQ. “Workspace provided a lot more space than a similar priced service office, which was important because we have a lot of hardware and colleagues visiting from time to time,” says Matthew. And while size does matter, Workspace’s unparalleled digital connectivity and welcoming breakout areas also appeal to visiting clients and colleagues alike.
The company then moved to China Works in 2015, attracted by the location and the price. “When our term expired at Kennington we looked at other offices in the area, but nothing met our requirements in terms of flexibility,” says Matthew. “It was an easy transition to move from one location to another within Workspace.” As T-Kartor have found, the flexible lease terms and volume of buildings and spaces open to Workspace customers make it easy to expand and move around the portfolio as businesses grow.
“Workspace’s unparalleled digital connectivity and welcoming breakout areas appeal to visiting clients and colleagues alike.”
What does the future hold for T-Kartor? On the city wayfinding side, the company is currently doing R&D into digital production, piloting interactive bus stop maps in Stockholm. Here in London, they’ve just signed a new contract with TfL for the next three years and are also doing production work for clients in the West Midlands and Ireland. But it’s the big cities they’ve really got their eyes on.
“Our USP suits very large cities so we’re looking all around the world,” says Tony. He’s keeping an eye on the big trends in urban planning and sustainable development. “There’s a big move in the US towards liveable cities,” says Tony, citing Google’s CityStreets pilot project in the dock area of Toronto. By liveable he means smart and sustainable — where people walk and cycle rather than drive. And maps will play a key role in forging the identity of these new cities, as well as connecting them. Because ultimately, maps do more than just provide information. As Tony says: “They lift the brand of a city”.
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