Modern man in the making

spread from book (pp. 24-5), 265 x 210 mm (single page), (I.C. 8.1 Mod) | read more...

Modern man in the making (1939) is the high point of the Isotype team's core concern with social statistics. It resulted from a generous commission by the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, which gave Otto Neurath great freedom as author of the book. His principal collaborator (and later wife) Marie Reidemeister persuaded him to try something new: a book in what she called 'picture-text' style. A chart inserted into the text constituted a 'paragraph' that had to be 'read' in order to follow the argument. Reidemeister assumed the role of 'transformer', a name coined for the interpreter of statistical data into simplified graphic form - a role that anticipated the modern information designer. She worked closely with Neurath and Gerd Arntz to produce the tight unity of the book. Seven colours in total were used for printing the graphics.

Published on the eve of the Second World War, Modern man in the making addresses many issues still of great relevance today - globalization, war and economy, emigration. Neurath deliberately avoided words that he deemed almost undefinable and therefore unhelpful (progress, justice, normal), a circumspection that gives a timeless quality to his text. Similarly, Isotype is partly characterized by an awareness of which details to leave out in order to communicate information memorably. Of the pictograms used in the system Neurath stated: 'The symbol may not denote more than is necessary to the statement of facts for which it is chosen.' This reflects primarily a philosophical and linguistic position, and only secondarily the graphic minimalism of inter-war modernism. He explained the intention of Isotype in the following way: 'At the first look you see the most important points, at the second, the less important points, at the third, the details, at the fourth, nothing more - if you see more the teaching-picture is bad.'

Extracted from Christopher Burke, 'Talking pictures', Eye, vol. 17, no. 68 (summer 2008), pp. 24-5

area of research: Modern man in the making (Burke)

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