Mr Harry Beck thought that riders of the London Underground needed a map that showed only what they needed to know. It was a revolutionary concept. As described on the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) website for a 2006 exhibition: MODERNISM–DESIGNING A NEW WORLD 1919 – 1939: The iconic London Underground map, which has been in use continuously since 1933, is in fact a diagram of the network. It shows relationships rather than distances to scale and uses only vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines, with different colours for each of the Tube lines. The map has become a design classic, implicitly demonstrating the importance of simplicity, economy and utility – all key values promoted by Modernist design. Yet it was devised and produced by an engineering draughtsman, Harry Beck, after he had been made temporarily redundant by London Underground.
Since then (and before then), creative people aiming at showing people where they are and where they might want to go have produced some beautiful maps. For e.g. the image of Manhattan shown above posted on a blog called Aardvaarks (“burrowing through the world of images”, active until July 30, 2008)
Quoted from Strange Maps. The work is credited to Alexander Cheek, Assistant Professor of Design, Carnegie Mellon, and is called Neighborhoods of Manhattan.
And then there are the mapmakers who go beyond the limits of physical geography. Saul Steinberg, a New Yorker from Romania, via Italy, was the artist who, over and over, showed us what we already knew but had never seen.
These examples from Accuracy and Aesthetics.