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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.



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


Simon Perkins
19 FEBRUARY 2010

An introduction to information design

"Information design, also known as communication design, is a rapidly growing discipline that draws on typography, graphic design, applied linguistics, applied psychology, applied ergonomics, computing, and other fields. It emerged as a response to people's need to understand and use such things as forms, legal documents, signs, computer interfaces, technical information and operating/assembly instructions. Information designers responding to these needs have achieved major economic and social improvements in information use.

Today information design is engaged in most complex projects which involve communication with customers, suppliers, partners and citizens – particularly where the costs of misunderstanding are large. Some examples of bad information design might include: forms that are incorrectly completed and costly to process; instructions that cause frustration and even danger and that may damage the reputation of the provider; education materials that fail to promote learning; scientific and technical data that is easily to misinterpret; command and control displays that fail to alert operators to potentially dangerous situations; and websites that are difficult to navigate and unpleasant to look at.

Information design is user–centred. Usually, it is iterative – design solutions are tested and modified repeatedly. Sometimes the testing is local and informal; sometimes a project justifies formal and extensive usability testing and evaluation.

Information designers serve the needs of both information providers and information users. They consider the selection, structuring and presentation of the information provider's message in relation to the purposes, skills, experience, preferences and circumstances of the intended users. To do this they draw on specialist knowledge and skills in a number of fundamental areas."

(Sue Walker and Mark Barratt)



applied ergonomics • applied linguistics • applied psychology • assembly instructionscommunication design • computer interface design • graphic designgraphicacyIKEAinformation aestheticsinformation designinformation designerinstructions • operating instructions • signagestatistical graphicstechnical informationtypographyUK • visible language • wayfinding


Tom Edson

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