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Maps, Reality, and Purpose

kickmap-brooklyn.jpg

Eddie Jabbour/KICK Design redesigned NYC subway maps to reflect user's needs rather than strict physical features. The maps (such as the one shown above) resemble Harry Beck's famous designs of the London Underground maps [image and commentary from Tufte's site]. The maps abstract out less relevant features—like minor twists and curves in the track paths—in favor of increased scannability.

At first glance, a map that doesn't directly correspond to the object it's mapping seems like a bad thing. But that's what maps are: useful abstractions. They're smaller than reality, less detailed, are usually two-dimensional. That shouldn't been seen as a limitation, but added information. The abstractions suggest to us what features we would benefit from paying attention to. And maps also have concrete, added details (in most locales, there aren't 100-foot-high letters towering over streets labeling them; Prospect Park isn't that flat green used in the maps). So abstractions, deletions, and additions are part of how a map works.

[via Basement.org]