“Words divide, images unite” – Isotype

Otto Neurath states “words divide, images unite”. He discovered that he only way to escape the inherent limits of language was through mathematics, including the mathematics used to represent logic and choice, such as Boolean algebra. Such an approach dovetailed with Neurath’s ideas for presenting social and economic truths in numerical, graphic form. (Patton, P. 2009)

Many of its pictograms in the isotype system were created by Gerd Arntz, a graphic designer Neurath hired in 1928. Arntz emphasized the simplification of shapes and silhouetting for easy reproduction and high-contrast recognizability. (Patton, P. 2009)

Neurath explains in his book; From hieroglyphics to Isotype: a visual autobiography the following rule…

“The first rule of Isotype is that greater quantities are not represented by an enlarged pictogram but by a greater number of the same-sized pictogram. In Neurath’s view, variation in size does not allow accurate comparison (what is to be compared – height/length or area?) whereas repeated pictograms, which always represent a fixed value within a certain chart, can be counted if necessary.”
Otto Neurath, 2010

This research relates to effective communication via pictograms / isotype rather than through words. Due to the silhouette and simplification of shapes by Gard Arntz it is great inspiration to help incorporate a minimalistic approach to my work.

Chart of motor vehicles in the United States and elsewhere. From Society and Economy, Vienna, 1930.

Figure 1: Chart of motor vehicles in the United States and abroad. From Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft, 1930 (courtesy MAK Center).
Source: http://www.aiga.org/neurath-bliss-and-the-language-of-the-pictogram/ [Accessed: 4th March 2013]

More interesting articles and key texts regarding Isotype that I came across include:




Book: International picture language (1936)

Book: Modern man in the making (1939)

Book: The Functional Art: An introduction to information graphics and visualization (2013)

Book: Nigel Holmes On Information Design (2006)



Otto Neurath, From hieroglyphics to Isotype: a visual autobiography. London, Hyphen Press, 2010 [in press]

Patton, P. 2009. AIGA Neurath, Bliss and the language of the pictogram. Available at: http://www.aiga.org/neurath-bliss-and-the-language-of-the-pictogram/ [Accessed 4th March 2013]

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