Otto Neurath (1882-1945) was an Austrian philosopher, sociologist and political economist. He was a member of the Vienna circle, a group of scientists and philosophers promoting logical empiricism. In the Vienna Manifesto (1929) they defined their scientific world-conception as characterized “essentially by two features. First it is empiricist and positivist: there is knowledge only from experience. Second, the scientific world-conception is marked by the application of a certain method, namely logical analysis.”
Otto Neuratt is mainly known to be the inventor of the Isotype (International System of Typographic Picture Education). Conceived in 1920, the Isotype system is the precursor of information design. It consists of a system of pictograms that can be found until today in many situations. He created this method in order to organize, analyze and graphically represent complex data and statistics to visually educate the population. The pictograms of the system, designed by Gerd Arntz, are simple layouts, clean lines and shapes, inspired by the Bauhaus aesthetic. They form a new visual language, simple, universal and non-verbal. A total of more than 4000 pictograms were created, many of which are still in use today.
From Isotype to Infographic
The Isotype system paved the way for the use of pictograms in many disciplines. First of all, in cartographic representation, for data visualization but also for transport network plans. But we also find this system in spatial orientation design (wayfinding design), it’s present in public spaces as well as for public signage (road pictograms, city language). Today its use has multiplied and it is an integral part of a company’s visual identity or of an interface design for example.
Statistical World Atlas
In 1925 he opened the Gesellschafts und Wirtschaftsmuseum (Socio-Economic Museum) in Vienna. With his wife, Marie Neurath he perfected the Isotype system and wrote several publications. Always with the aim of converting a complex source of information into a simple source of visual information. The most influential works are probably International picture language (1936) or Modern Man in the Making (1939).
His earlier works, such as Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft. 100 Bildtafeln (1931) later made him a pioneer in infographics. This work presents a Statistical world atlas that shows statistical information on a range of topics, including population, migration, indigenous peoples, slavery, labor, religion, trade, natural resources, and the growth of cities over time. In the excerpts below it presents information in the form of pictograms located on maps of Europe analyzing data from the Roman Empire in 117. The first is the population in the Roman Empire, the second is the population per city and the third is the production in the Empire.
Roman Empire: Population
Colored map showing population of countries in the Roman Empire. Includes explanatory text. Map is 25 x 40 cm, on sheet 31 x 46 cm. Information depicted with Isotype. Each pictogram represents 2.5 million inhabitants.
Roman Empire: Cities
Colored map showing population of cities in the Roman Empire. Includes explanatory text. Map is 25 x 40 cm, on sheet 31 x 46 cm. Information depicted with Isotype. Each pictogram represents 50 000 million inhabitants.
Roman Empire: Production
Colored map showing production in the Roman Empire. Includes explanatory text. Map is 25 x 40 cm, on sheet 31 x 46 cm. Information depicted with Isotype. Green: plants, animals and their products. Blue: blue: Product and slaves. Black : Mining product.