From Encyclopedia of Media Objects
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“We are like sailors who have to rebuild their ship on the open sea, without ever being able to dismount it in dry-dock and reconstruct it from the best components.”

-- Otto Neurath

Otto Neurath: International Picture Language 1936

Otto Neurath and the Vienna Circle

Neurath was born in 1882 in Vienna and died 1945 in Oxford. He was member of the Social Democrats and one of the leading figures in the Vienna Circle. With his research he had big influence in education, philosophy of language and philosophy of science. In the 1920`s Neurath worked together with the architect Adolf Loos in the Cooperative Settlement Movement, for his work was important to built a link between community and society("Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft"). In the ambiguous positions at the Vienna Circle - a group of discussing philosophers, scientist, etc in the 1920ies and 30ies in the Univeristy of Vienna - was he oriented on a Coherentism. Its possible to call Neurath one of the architects of modernity.

Visions for encyclopedias(?lets find a title)

17th century encyclopedias + connections with leibniz and ideas of universal language (basic english)


isotype(difference between pictogram and isotype, etc)
A Method of presenting quantity of information through universal, understandable and visual language. (interpreted signs)
Isotype was the preceder of the pictogram. Pictograms are often used in writing and graphic systems in which the characters are to a considerable extent pictorial in appearance.
The key difference between the pictograms and isotope is that pictograms functions mainly as navigation devices (for example showing certain direction), while the isotopes are used as an pictorial metood of showing social, technological, historical and contextual connections, which allows people to orientate themselves within the society and the structures. First they served as signs of material condition that shaped the life of Viennas' citizens in various way - housing, education, health and educational systems.
(concerning the time 30s in Vienna and Europe)

Some quotations from the neurath book"International Picture Language" about the intention behind Isotype: "... thought we are living in a time of warring interests and broken connections." S.13 Neurath, Otto: International Picture Language 1936 "Any work done on the question of international languages - with a view to making a word language, or a helping picture language - will give support to international developments generally." S.13et seq. Neurath, Otto: International Picture Language 1936

Isotype nowadays

research about isotype, forms of visualization today, data journalism, web visualization, critic Relevant examples of present isotypes could be seen in Parisian conceptual group Bureau d'Etudes engaged in creating alternative maps which aim to explore current contemporary political, economic and social structures.
They rule a website, which provides a glimpse of some of the relationships of the US ruling class in 2007. It takes as its focus the boards of some of the most powerful U.S. companies, main institutions and leaders which share many of the same directors.

Lecture Matiral

DUMP FROM Michael Murtaugh (talk) 12:49, 5 March 2013 (CET)

Object – the ISOTYPE

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Steve Rushton is a founding member of Signal:Noise, an experimental cross-disciplinary research project that aims to explore the influence of cybernetics and information theory on contemporary cultural life by testing out its central idiom, 'feedback', through debates, artworks, publications, performances, events and exhibitions. The project is lead by Steve Rushton, Dexter Sinister (David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey), Marina Vishmidt, Rod Dickinson and Emily Pethick. Recent publications include Masters of Reality (Sternberg Press and Piet Zwart Institute, 2012)

Otto Neurath

One of the architects of modernity. Neurath research hat big influence in education, philosophy of language, philosophy of sience and (Diagrammmatik?).

one of the leading members of the "vienna circle"

International Picture language, 1936 ( Picture Atlas )

Cooperative Settlement Movement

architect of modernity

Relationshp between community and society"Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft" important in his thinking.


to help us orientate in a field of knowledge

a system of providing statistical image

the preceder of the pictogram

  • the isotype locates us in afield of knowledge
  • a system that could be easily decoded by the modern mind
  • elements are serial (combinatory) and reproducible

Pictgram vs Isotype

pictogram = to navigate and architectural stage

isotype = tool to communicate more complex information to wider audiences. to navigate the field of knowledge.

Neurath's meeting with Paul Otlet

Tuberculosis graphic (ISOSTAT)

Waves standing for days time it takes to cross the Atlantic (from 1492 until the Airplane)

The Scientific Atlas

  • concerned with the image
  • the changes in techniques in the depicting of scientific image in different times
  • diagrammatic decisions as to where our attention should be drawn to

a "perfect specimen" -- removing imperfections Objectivity: the "blind sight"


photographic as a system

Martianus Capella

De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii ("On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury")

Early medieval encyclopedia using allegory to talk about the seven disciplines.

The 7 liberal arts / Pythagorean system of arts (Logic, Grammar, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Cosomology, Music) -- number + time, number alone, number + space, number + time + space, ...

This defined the standard for medieval learning.

Martianus Capella

De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii ("On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury")

Early medieval encyclopedia using allegory to talk about the seven disciplines.

The 7 liberal arts / Pythagorean system of arts (Logic, Grammar, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Cosomology, Music) -- number + time, number alone, number + space, number + time + space, ...

This defined the standard for medieval learning.

Earth, Water, Air, Fire

From Symbols to an Alphabet

Leibniz; attempts a universal pictographic language convey information -- like an arithmetic of symbols

Chinese was at the time seen as already doing this.

Big influence on Neurathhs thinking

Shoe + Works = Shoe Works

isotype - the system to convey knowledge about the society and the structure

One quality of the isotype is that is serial - could be redraw in order to convey or reconvey certain data

Anotehr is that it could be reproduce.

Adressing a modern mode of attention. Digital combinational, statistical mode of attention.


Idea of Encyclopedia / Atlas:

Scientific Atlas:


'Blind sight' is particular 19th century conception of objectivity. Interesting to look at because of focus on image.

Anger towards Copernican theories of came from it being printed. that meant it wasnt to be changed.

Ogden Basic English is also an attmept at an international second language to ease communication in an incraesingly globalizing world. -> Reminds of Newspeak 1984

A Encycl. 18th c. (printed on Double Elephant) ... like an A2?

Historical types:

1. engraving = idealisation //example plant

2. photograph = imperfect reproduction //example snow flake

3. Diagram = thought out information, mediated //example magnetic field

BASIC English: 300 words

British American Standard International Commercial

an ordered form of language, that allowed for easy international communitcation

Quotation from HG Wells promoting the idea, later parodied in George Orwell's 1984 as "newspeak" (

It is through isotype that we learn to browse

(? Idea that language divides while pictures make connections )

Image of Marie (?) Neurath's hands transcribing information -- the "code" of the system

Arntz' visualizations/drawings are then the 'interface' of this information


data - code - interface == statistics - code - picture

Comparison with Brinton (American take on "Graphic Methods")

still a pre-modern interpretation - not very effective to a 20 century audience

Neurath: was using silluets, flattening images, simplify, employing gestalt principles

Police Invervention Graphic showing difference between drunken / non-drunken arrestations (showing drunken reprentational images)

"Vienna School" becomes ISOTYPE

Books about Neuraths ISOTYPE:

Otto Neurath: The Language of the Global Polis by Nader Vossoughian

Modern links: Maeda / Simplicity,

Need to simplify to the essential units in order to convey complex ideas

It has to be a moral and informed choice what you do with the information. Information interpretation is not neutral.

Translating matters of fact into matters of concern