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ReAppreciating Isotype

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

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 content while the particapatory problem solving process (cocreation process) component that we know today to be so important to changemaking was essentially missing.

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.

More on Otto Neurath More on Gerd Antz More on Maria Neurath

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.


HUMANTIFIC: ReAppreciating Willard C. Brinton

HUMANTIFIC: Making Sense of: “What Killed The Infographic?”


HUMANTIFIC: Isotype: Building Bridges


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