ReAppreciating Otto Neurath
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.
More on Isotype Institute
More on Otto Neurath
More on Gerd Antz
More on Maria Neurath
GK VanPatter: What is SenseMaking?
GK VanPatter: SenseMaking / The Karl Weick Question
CoCreation Missing No More: See: Markets for Giving Workshop
The OTHER Design Thinking