Isotype Building Bridges

We are happy to share more historical sensemaking images from Humantific’s Isotype Collection. These are from 1943.

In early Isotype studio work, one can find many great examples of sensemaking acceleration techniques that are still in use today, including the comparison. Experts in presenting complex subjects clearly, the Isotype Institute team often used comparisons to help explain differences and similarities between groups, regions, and countries.

Reflecting a “simpler” time in history, Isotype work often (not always) involved two-party comparisons on select issues, as in this example. In this 1943 book, America and Britan, Only an Ocean Between, published in London for an English speaking audience, numerous aspects of the two countries are compared. In addition, a few 9-10 country comparisons are included in “18 Pictoral Charts Designed by Isotype Institute.” This human-centered approach to book creation, combining text, photographs, and diagrams, was referred to by the authors as “Reading Without Tears.”

As in much of Isotype work, the underlying purpose was optimistic and constructive: to build a bridge; to help accelerate understanding between diverse humans with the hope that this might create a better world.

From the book’s Foreword, by John Winant, then American Ambassador to Great Britain:

“America and Britain are learning to know one another… Such mutual knowledge will be more than ever essential when the battle ends and the task of reconstruction lies before us…If this century is to be the century of the common man, the common man must be informed of the facts by every means in the power of the expert — by writing, by pictures, by charts. For only so can he form the judgements on which a durable and democratic international reconstruction depends. This book will, I am sure, help to bridge whatever ocean still flows between our two countries’ knowledge and understanding of each other.”

Isotype created the visual symbol language (“International Picture Language”) as well as the diagrams. Considering that computers did not exist then, it is clear that Isotype Institute created—by hand—a staggering amount of excellent-quality social sensemaking material during their time. Even with its imperfections, much of that work remains inspiring for many still today.

More on Isotype

Image Source: Florence, L. Secor. America and Britain, Only An Ocean Between. 1943. Diagrams designed by the Isotype Institute. Humantific Collection, New York.

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One Response to Isotype Building Bridges

  1. D says:

    When I stumbled onto this article I genuinely thought the first image was recent and designed in a retro style! I didn’t realise how old it was until I noticed the dates on the following examples (plus the lack of Scottish hydro power and the mutton remark!). Shows good design is timeless – and there’s “nothing new under the sun”. I think it’s something all designers need a reminder of from time to time – especially the ones who believe the hype. Thanks for posting these, I hope they reach a wider audience.

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