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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.

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TAGS

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

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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