For a moment, I thought it was a coincidence. A few months ago I became fascinated by Isotype, the pictorial language created in the 1920s and 1930s. Within the span of a week, I found out that several people I work with actually had made the same discovery.
First I attended an impassioned lecture on ‘graphics with a cause’ by my colleague Yuri Engelhardt who compared Otto Neurath, the father of Isotype, with Hans Rosling, a modern protagonist of the power of visualization. A couple of days later I discovered that Eugene Tjoa, with whom I collaborate in several projects, was planning to revitalize the work of Gerd Arntz, the man who designed most of the Isotype icons.
Of course it was not coincidental at all. Sooner or later everyone interested in data visualization stumbles upon Isotype and is captivated by its clean icons and its clear principles of design. Neurath’s guidelines for visualizing data are as valuable today as they were when he wrote them down in 1936.
For obvious reasons, interactivity is not part of the Isotype cookbook. That’s what makes Eugene’s plans to modernize original Isotype productions so exciting. He will update the statistics of visualizations designed by Gerd Arntz and enhance them by adding interactive features. In my opinion, the challenge of this great experiment will be to keep the interactive design as clean and effective as the original visual design. And although Neurath never knew about interactive media like the web, he did write about combinations of Isotype images in exhibitions. With a little fantasy, this remark could be a good starting point for creating isotype interactives:
Every picture has to give a new impulse to attention, to conscious thought, to a desire for deeper knowledge. Interest has to be the guide between one picture and another. But it is possible to overdo things. “Less is more.” The teaching effect will be greater, the memory will be clearer, when only a small number of good pictures has been given, every one different from the other, and a the same time every one supporting the other.
(International picture language. The first rules of Isotype, 1936, p. 66)