Neurath & Arntz

In the 1930’s, Otto Neurath and Gerd Arntz developed the International System Of TYpographic Picture Education, or ISOTYPE.

Neurath, a social scientist and philosopher, saw an illiterate proletariat struggling to fully participate in civic life, politically and economically. He conceived of the ISOTYPE as a way to convey information to illiterate or barely literate adults, giving them the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions. In Arntz, Neurath found a designer with the talent and sensibility to express complex ideas through simple pictograms. In addition to pioneering the restrained aesthetic of infographics, both men were rigorously faithful to the accurate display of information and statistics. The degree to which their work still permeates society, particularly in wayfinding, speaks to the brilliance of the design in idea and execution. Seen in transit systems, maps and museums, many symbols are now truly universal.

Unfortunately, the aesthetic is increasingly being co-opted, with innocently inaccurate or intentionally misleading infographics trading on a veneer of scientific rigor. Literate, educated adults are being misinformed or hoodwinked by junk infographics. As a designer, it’s become increasingly important to me to avoid “things that look cool” and focus instead on solving problems through design. I’m trying to focus on substance and function. As a consumer, I’m trying think more analytically about my experience.

In many ways, it’s a frightening time. As with our food, the world in general and the internet in particular seems to be moving toward candy. It’s style instead of substance and entertainment instead of education.

Personally, I’ve been thinking hard about what I want my legacy to be. I previously said that I prefer to create rather than to consume. At this point, I’d like to modify that statement, and say that I prefer to craft rather than to consume.

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