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21 MARCH 2011

ISOTYPE: International System of TYpographic Picture Education

"Pictures had been used for the purpose of conveying information long before the development of Isotype. Picture language preceded the evolution of writing and a number of societies developed their own sets of rules in order to aid communication through pictures. Since the evolution of alphabetic writing in the western world pictures have, generally speaking, played a subordinate role to writing as far as communicating information is concerned. It is true that until the middle of the nineteenth century paintings usually told a story of some kind and relied on conventions of symbolism, composition, gesture and facial expression to convey their meaning; but there were few attempts to build up comprehensive picture languages before the present century. Comenius was not concerned with the structure of pictorial language, and even William Playfair, who developed a visual approach to the representation of quantities in the late eighteenth century which he called 'lineal arithmetic', does not appear to have adopted any firm conventions of treatment. Similarly, the numerous nineteenth– and early twentieth–century designers who presented statistics and other information through pictures appear not to have considered the need to work out overall approaches. By the end of the nineteenth century many novel approaches had been adopted in the field of picture language but, in general, it was as chaotic as written language was in pre–classical times when early Greek and Latin characters assumed a variety of orientations and the direction of reading and writing were not fixed.

The real significance of Otto Neurath's contribution in the field of picture language is that he saw the need to establish a set of conventions in order to make communication easier and more effective. These conventions were developed over a number of years and were only settled upon after being tested thoroughly through use. However, two basic rules were formulated almost from the beginning of the Isotype Movement. The first of these related to the presentation of statistics by means of pictures and held that a sign should be used to represent a certain amount of things and a greater number of such signs a greater amount of things. The second was a general rule that perspective should not be used. Perspective involves making objects of the same size smaller or larger according to their distance from the viewer, which means that they cannot easily be quantified; when something needed to be shown in three dimensions the Isotype team used models or isometric drawings. In accepting these two basic rules Otto Neurath was returning to the conventions of some of the earliest formalised systems of communication, and particularly to Egyptian wall painting and hieroglyphs which had influenced him profoundly. Thereafter a number of other rules and conventions were established by Otto Neurath and his team. They are described briefly in the section of the catalogue called 'Principles of Isotype', and in more detail by Otto Neurath in his book International picture language."

(Michael Twyman, 1975)

Fig.1 Chart of motor vehicles in the United States and abroad. From Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft, 1930 (courtesy MAK Center).

2). Michael Twyman (1975). 'The significance of Isotype'

3). Otto Neurath (1930). 'Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft – Bildatlas'

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TAGS

1925atlascartographychartconventionsdesign formalismdesign historydiagram • Gerd Arntz • Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft • graphic communicationhieroglyphsillustrationinformationinformation aestheticsinformation graphics • international picture language • International System of TYpographic Picture Education • ISOTYPE • IZOSTAT • lineal arithmetic • map • Marie Neurath • Marie Reidemeister • notationOtto Neurath • Paul Rotha • pictogrampictorial languagepictorial statisticspicture languagerepresentation • Soviet Institute of Pictorial Statistics • statisticssymbolismtwentieth-century designVictoria and Albert MuseumVienna Methodvisual approachvisual communicationvisual education • visual science • William Playfair

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
08 MARCH 2010

Otto Neurath and the Vienna Method of Picture Statistics

"The Vienna method of picture statistics represents a remarkable episode in the history of statistical graphics. It was an organized attempt to use graphical design for the purpose of achieving changes in society, primarily through visual education of the masses, and especially by presenting basic socio–economic facts in a readily comprehensible form. ... One of the leading ideas of the Vienna circle was that nature, as well as history, economy and society, could be described by the same methods. These should produce valid statements about space–time relationships that would lead to predictions which in turn could influence the course of events [6].

A characteristic of picture statistics according to Neurath's Vienna method is that numbers are represented by a series of identical pictorial elements or signs, each of them representing a defined quantity... . The discrete character, the attractiveness and expressiveness of the picture elements are essential aspects of picture statistics. They can be transformed back into numbers by counting picture elements. This contrasts with the practice of present–day bar charts or histograms in which numbers are translated into lengths of continuous line segments, and in which the numbers are reconstructed from readings on a numerically divided scale.

Neurath vigorously rejected histograms with numerical scales, pie charts and graded symbols, as much as he disapproved of continuous line charts. He strictly adhered to counting of recognizable and suggestive signs."

(Paul J. Lewi, 2006)

[6] Otto Neurath, Empirische Sociologie, 1931. Otto Neurath, Foundations of the Social Sciences. 1944.

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TAGS

2006Austriachartcommunicationdatadesigndiagram • graded symbols • graphicacyhistograminformation designinformation graphics • line charts • numerical scalesOtto Neurath • pictorial elements • pictorial representation • pictorial signs • picture statisticspie chartssocio-economicstatistical graphicsVienna CircleVienna Method • Vienna Method of Picture Statistics • visual communicationvisual designvisual educationvisual information designvisual languagevisualisation

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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