Isotype. Past and present

Infographics have once again become a hot topic. Presenting facts and information in a way which enables them to be quickly and accurately absorbed and understood is an effective approach to dealing with today’s information overload. The “isotype” is a historical example of the infographic which remains unmatched to this day. In 1925, Otto Neurath (1882–1945) founded the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum (Museum for Society and Economy) in Vienna, where he and his team developed the “Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics”. The method used simple symbols and pictures to present complex social and economic relationships in a clear and easy-to-understand manner. To make the scale and the relationships immediately understandable, and to make the images easy to commit to memory, the Neurath’s systematically constructed pictorial language made repeated use of easy-to-remember figurative symbols. The museum’s core team, which included graphic artist Gerd Arnzu and Neurath’s later wife Marie Reidemeister, was forced to flee Vienna in 1934. The team continued to work on their method in Oxford and in the Hague, developing it into what became known as the isotype system. Following Otto Neurath’s death in 1945, his wife Marie Neurath took over the Isotype Institute, carried out projects in Africa and published popular science books for children. Now the Vienna Wirtschaftsmuseum, started up by Neurath, is hosting an exhibition entitled Geschichte und Gegenwart von ISOTYPE (Past and Present of ISOTYPE), which presents the development of the isotype method. Parts of the collection from the original Austrian Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum will be on display until 14 February 2020, including picture statistics, brochures and photos, as well as the “Society and Economy” atlas, which represents the pinnacle of the work done by Otto Neurath and his team. The museum’s website also features a series of short films, produced by students, which contain animated versions of scenes from Marie Neurath’s children’s books.

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