Brain Pickings

Vintage Visual Language: The Story of Isotype

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In the 1930s, Austrian sociologist, philosopher and curator Otto Neurath and his wife Marie pioneered ISOTYPE — the International System Of TYpographic Picture Education, a new visual language for capturing quantitative information in pictograms, sparking the golden age of infographics in print.

The Transformer: Principles of Making Isotype Charts is the first English-language volume to capture the story of Isotype, an essential foundation for our modern visual language dominated by pictograms in everything from bathroom signage to computer interfaces to GOOD’s acclaimed Transparencies.

The real cherry on top is a previously unpublished essay by Marie Neurath, who was very much on par with Otto as Isotype’s co-inventor, written a year before her death in 1986 and telling the story of how she carried on the Isotype legacy after Otto’s death in 1946.

Richly illustrated and contextualized with fascinating historical essays, The Transformer is a vital primer for a visual langauge that not only frames much of today’s communication but also speaks to us on a powerful intuitive level.

HT Information Is Beautiful

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How a Book is Made, Circa 1947

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2011 is barely underway and it’s already been a tumultuous year for the evolution of publishing. As entire industries struggle to plot the future of the book, we find it important to take a step back and take a look at its past. An 8-bit unicorn tipped us off to the priceless 1947 documentary Making Books — a joint effort of Encyclopedia Britannica Films and the Library of Congress that will make you gasp and wince and gasp again as it opens its treasure chest of retro technology, matter-of-factly industrialism and unwitting vintage sexism. (Alnd cue in omnibus of short films about obsolete occupations.)

This man is an author. He writes stories. He has just finished writing a story. He thinks many people will like to read it. So, he must have this story made into a book. Let’s see how the book is made.”

While we aren’t ones to romanticize the wonders of yore, there’s something to be said for the kind of craftsmanship that we lose, or at the very least dramatically alter, as we substitute the digital page for the printed one. We also have to wonder about the lens of delightful quaintness with which tomorrow’s historians and media scholars will tell the story of, say, designing for the iPad reading experience.

via Dead SULs

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Brainman: Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant

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What the circumference of a circle has to do with on-demand polyglotism.

With all the recent buzz about pitting a supercomputer against the sharpest human brains, it’s worth pausing and taking a moment of awe at the rare superhuman brains that serve as a reminder of mankind’s dormant potential. I recently had the pleasure of seeing thirty-something British autistic savant Daniel Tammet take the TED stage and open a rare door to an extraordinary, superhuman brain. On the heels of Born on a Blue Day — one of the year’s must-read books by TED speakers — here is a fascinating 2005 UK documentary titled Brainman, which takes us inside Tammett’s infinitely intriguing mind.

Entralled by Tammet’s exceptional brain, which makes him one of only about 50 such autistic savants living in the world today, scientists embark on a series of experiments testing the limits — or, as it turns out, the seeming limitlessness — of his cognitive prowess. The results are simply astounding.

I’m seeing things in my head, like mental sparks firing up, and it’s not until the very last moment that those sparks tell me what on earth they mean.” ~ Daneil Tammet

What makes Tammet so remarkable isn’t merely that he was able to learn Icelandic in a single week, or that he broke the European record by reciting the number pi up to the 22,514th digit, or that he has accute synesthesia. It’s that, despite the social paralysis of his condition, he is not only willing to be a public voice but also able to be an outstandingly eloquent one.

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