In the near future I'm going to publish an interview with Steve Chilton, Chair of the UK Society of Cartographers. In the process of doing a bit of a catch up (we met last year when I gave a talk to their annual conference) he pointed me to a talk ('Here be dragons' - he does two talks) he gave recently to the OpenStreetMap conference about map design. I'm going to talk to Steve about OpenStreetMap organisation in the interview so I won't talk about the project here, but I did like one particular point he made in his talk which is about the Artistry involved in map making. Over at Juicy Geography Noel recently ran a competition to find the most artistic view from GE, here's an example I've always liked:
(a screen shot of some beautiful rivers in Mali from Google Earth. KML file here)
but that isn't what Steve meant, I think he was alluding to the elegance that comes with good design. Similar to a soaring arch in a Cathedral or the simplicity of an iPod interface, the beauty of a map lies not in its form but in how it performs its function. The classic example of this is the London tube map (which I can't show in an image from copyright reasons).