The Invention of ISOTYPE: How a Vintage Visual Language Paved the Way for the Infographics Age
The story of a 1930s system for capturing quantitative information in pictograms that shaped much of today’s visual language.
By Maria Popova
In the 1930s, Austrian sociologist, philosopher, and curator Otto Neurath (December 10, 1882–December 22, 1945) and his not-yet-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 (public library) 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The real cherry on top is a previously unpublished essay by Marie Neurath, who was very much on par with Otto as Isotype’s co-inventor, written a year before her death in 1986 and telling the story of how she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.
Published March 8, 2011