Clarity: The Next Design Thinking Evolution
For those who might have missed this earlier published interview with Humantific Co-Founder GK VanPatter you can find that document plus his 40+ other published papers in free downloadable form here:
We love and respect the complex history of what has become the sensemaking profession today. Here are more example images from Humantific’s Isotype Institute Collection. These are from 1955.
The Vienna-based Isotype Institute team, active in the 1920s-1950s, is widely recognized as an early pioneer in the commercial application of visual sensemaking. They applied their unique skill-set to the explanation of many business subjects, in addition to their social subjects work. These “Isotype Charts” are part of a 16-diagram series that explains the chemistry, manufacture, and use of plastics, with an emphasis on their application in the building industries. They appeared in the 1955 book, entitled Plastics and Building.
Isotype Institute work was not always focused on driving towards changemaking. In examples like this one, their focus was on explaining existing conditions within industries—what we would call the “today” picture—without any particular reference or speculation about the “tomorrow” picture.
Today, Humantific would consider this to be part of the Yin (without the Yang) component of changemaking. Pictures of “today” are not only helpful in constructing collective understanding of existing conditions—they are also great jumping-off points for cocreating futures.
We might point out that Isotype Institute was not just making sense of data-sets and information. They were looking at, and deciphering, many complex phenomena taking place in the field of focus, much of it rather abstract—including processes, chemical compositions, and various applications. They were using skills which can be referred to as information design, but they were not just designers of information. They could make sense of any subject, regardless of its state. From the Humantific perspective, they were early professional sensemakers. Their professional sensemaking often informed and accelerated the everyday sensemaking of others operating in organizational settings and in the public realm.
The output of Isotype Institute is immensely impressive and still highly influential today.
Note: For those interested in the finer points of Information Design history, we will point out three additional details:
1. Design was not a word that was used within Isotype Institute.
2. Isotype images were not made by individuals, but rather by a collaborative effort, within which the ‘Transformer” played a significant role—acting as Mediator, Organizer, Shaper between the information research and the graphic form.
3. Otto Neurath died in 1945, at the age of 63. Some see significant differences in images acredited to Isotype made after this date.
Image Source: Mactaggart, E. F. and H. H. Chambers. Plastic and Building. 1955. Diagrams designed by the Isotype Institute. Humantific Collection, New York.
Humantific CoFounder, Elizabeth Pastor taught a Visual SenseMaking Workshop at Istituto Europeo di Design in Madrid on November 22. Open to the public and co-sponsored with IED’s Masters of Design and Innovation Program, this Glimpse session was designed to be a quick introduction to the subject of Humantific’s Visual SenseMaking. The session, which was sold out, focused on how it differs from other visual thinking approaches and techniques, and how it applies to real world creative problem solving. Through several lessons and exercises, the participants learned:
Stay tuned for news about more Glimpse sessions in New York and San Francisco!
Interested in Future Workshops?
Humantific conducts cross-disciplinary innovation skill-building on an ongoing basis with organizations globally. If you would like to consider bringing Humantific to your organization to help with your innovation skill-building and strategic thinking for leaders, contact us: engage (at) humantific (dot) com
We are happy to share more historical sensemaking images from Humantific’s Isotype Collection. Active long before the “Big Data Era” arrived these Isotype examples 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 data-informed 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.
Image Source: Florence, L. Secor. America and Britain, Only An Ocean Between. 1943. Diagrams designed by the Isotype Institute. Humantific Collection, New York.
GK VanPatter: What is SenseMaking?
[Speaking at SenseMaker Dialogs]
CoCreation Missing No More: See: Markets for Giving Workshop
At Humantific, we have tremendous respect for the work of the early Social SenseMaking pioneers—among them, the central figures of Isotype Institute: Otto Neurath (1882-1945), Gerd Arntz (1900-1988) and Marie Neurath (1898-1986).
In the Humantific Collection, we have numerous Isotype (International Picture Language System) artifacts. We will share some of the lesser-known example diagrams here, in this inspiration archive.
Based initially in Vienna, what the relatively small Isotype group was able to accomplish in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s remains a towering achievement in the practice of what we know today as Social SenseMaking.
At Humantific, we are interested in the Before, During, and After-Isotype eras, acknowledging that what we do today has many similarities, and as many differences.
Neurath, in particular, was deeply interested in contributing to the creation of a better, more unified world (“Words Divide, Pictures Unite”) and had specific notions regarding how that might best be accomplished.
Perhaps due to the orientations of its founders, Isotype Institute work tended to be strong on making sense of complex, data-driven content, while the participatory change-making process (cocreation process) component that we know today to be so important was essentially missing. Today we are more aware that making sense of the data is not in itself going to change the world. Hands-on participatory cocreation leadership is needed in orchestration with visualization.
Regardless of its imperfections, Isotype remains an important historical inspiration for many practicing SenseMakers, including the UnderstandingLab team at Humantific.
Stay tuned for more inspiring, early SenseMaking examples from the Humantific Collection.
Image Source: Central Bureau Voor de Statistiek 1944-1946: Statistisch Zakboek by Uitgeversmaatschappij W. De Haan N.V. Utrecht. 1947. Diagrams designed by the Isotype Institute. Humantific Collection, New York.
CoCreation Missing No More: See: Markets for Giving Workshop
Our congratulations goes out to all attendees of this year’s NextD WorkshopONE, TWO & THREE. Participants from around the globe (6 countries in total) came together for 4 days of intensive facilitation training in New York City. It was an incredible few days for all involved, our special thanks to Humantific Strategylab leaders Elizabeth Pastor and Janet Getto for helping us turn our fuzzy problems into action!
Interested in Future Workshops?
Conducting NextD Workshops is only one of many work streams at Humantific. We are doing workshop based cross-disciplinary innovation skill-building on an ongoing basis with organizations in numerous countries. If you would like to consider bringing Humantific in to your organization to help with your innovation skill-building, innovation strategy creation, strategic thinking for leaders, feel free to let us know. Send email to: engage (at) humantific (dot) com