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From hieroglyphics to Isotype: a visual autobiography

Otto Neurath / edited by Matthew Eve & Christopher Burke

Otto Neurath wrote From hieroglyphics to Isotype during the last two years of his life: this is the first publication of the full text, carefully edited from the original manuscripts in the Otto & Marie Neurath Isotype Collection at the University of Reading. Calling it a ‘visual autobiography’, Neurath documents the importance to him of visual material, from his earliest years to his professional activity with the picture language of Isotype. He draws clear connections between the stimulus he received as a boy – from illustrated books, toys, and exhibitions – to the considered work in visual education that occupied him for the last twenty years of his life. This engaging and informal account gives a rich picture of Central-European culture around the turn of the twentieth century, as well as an exposition of the techniques of Isotype. The edition includes the numerous illustrations intended by Neurath to accompany his text, and is completed by an extensive appendix showing examples from the rich variety of graphic material that he collected.

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Modern typography in Britain: graphic design, politics, and society (Typography papers 8)

This remarkable volume is a collection of eleven essays and shorter articles which for the first time provide rich contexts – social, cultural, and political – for graphic design in Britain. Reaching from the Second World War to the early 1970s, they fizz with provocative interconnections: between print culture, photojournalism and publishing, the London of émigrés, political meetings and demonstrations, cultural cafés and art schools. From these disparate milieux emerged new ideas about designing: configuring and picturing the world of facts and processes, shaping them for understanding, learning, and action. Presented here are documents of the nation’s life in war, its reconstruction through the passages from scarcity to plenty, the seeds of later fragmentation, always fertile with multiple intersections between biography and history.

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Large 040 t

The transformer: principles of making Isotype charts

Marie Neurath and Robin Kinross

The visual work of Otto Neurath and his associates, now commonly known as Isotype, has been much discussed in recent years. This short book explains its essential principles: the work of ‘transforming’, or putting information into visual form. This deeper level of their work – which is applicable in all areas of design – is routinely neglected in the assumption that Isotype is just a matter of symbols and pictograms. At the core of the book is a previously unpublished essay by Marie Neurath, the principle Isotype transformer, which she wrote in the last year of her life. This is supplemented by Robin Kinross with commentary on illustrated examples of Isotype and other supporting short essays.

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Large 047 i

Isotype: design and contexts, 1925–1971

Christopher Burke, Eric Kindel, Sue Walker (editors)

The work in graphic communication carried out by Otto Neurath and his associates – now commonly known simply as Isotype – has been the subject of much interest in recent years. Conceived and developed in the 1920s as ‘the Vienna method of pictorial statistics’, this approach to designing information had from its inception the power to grow and spread internationally. Political developments in Europe played their part in its development, and production moved to the Netherlands (1934) and to England (1940), where the Isotype Institute continued to produce work until 1971. Bringing together the latest research, this book is the first comprehensive, detailed account of its subject. The Austrian, Dutch, and English years of Isotype are described here freshly and extensively. There are chapters on the notable extensions of Isotype to Soviet Russia, the USA, and Africa. Isotype work in film and in designing for children is fully documented and discussed. Between these main chapters the book presents interludes documenting Isotype production visually. Three appendices reprint key documents. In its international coverage and its extensions into the wider terrain of history, this book opens a new vista in graphic design.

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Journal

Copyright in Isotype work: the claim of the Arntz estate

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Robin Kinross / 2017.11.09

This article follows on from the more general considerations on copyright in Isotype published here. Read more

‘From hieroglyphics to Isotype’ arrived

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2010.09.09

Copies of Otto Neurath’s ‘visual autobiography’ arrived in London a few days ago. The book has been designed and its pages made by one of its editors, Christopher Burke; it was printed by Die Keure in Bruges and bound by SVK Boekbinderij, also in Belgium. Unusually for us, the book is a cloth-covered hardback, with a loose jacket. We felt that we should give this degree of permanence to the first full publication of Neurath’s text. Three different papers are used in the book, to distinguish and support the three main sections: the introductory material, Neurath’s text, and an appendix that shows a sample of his extraordinary collection of visual material. The book goes on sale in Europe at the end of this month. Copies are now just starting their journey by ship to our distributors in North America. Read more

An interview with Robin Kinross

Petra Cerne Oven and Robin Kinross / 2000.08.21

This interview was recorded in London on 28 May 1999, and published in Slovenian translation in the cultural magazine ‘Emzin’ (vol. 9, nos. 1–2). In making this transcription, we have made some clarifications and expansions of what was said. Read more

‘From hieroglyphics to Isotype’: book launch

2011.01.06

On Thursday 20 January, thanks to the kind hospitality of the Austrian Cultural Forum in London, we are launching From hieroglyphics to Isotype. The ACF in Knightsbridge is a short walk away from the Victoria & Albert Museum, where, until 13 March, you can see the splendid exhibition Isotype: International Picture Language. This show makes an excellent introduction to Isotype; also a substantial one, illustrated and embodied in a good sample of material from the Isotype archive at the University of Reading.

After Neurath

2006.09.26

A symposium on Otto Neurath and the after-effects of his visual work (Isotype) will be held on 31 October at Stroom Den Haag. Among those speaking are Frank Hartmann, Robin Kinross, Kristóf Nyíri, and Femke Snelting.

An index to the journal (2)

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2013.10.20

One way of finding text on this website is via the search function (in the right column of every page). This will get you to any word that has been written anywhere on the website. There is also an overview of the postings in the journal here. This is a more intelligible and selective guide: an index to the main, discursive pieces in the journal pages (at October 2013; updated from the previous index of June 2011). Pieces have been grouped rather crudely by theme, and then are alphabetically ordered by title. The main author of these pieces is Robin Kinross; other authors are noted here. Read more

Information Design Conference 2009

2009.03.21

From 2 to 3 April the Information Design Association in the UK is holding a two-day conference at the University of Greenwich, London – admirers of Christopher Wren’s work will have good reasons to go and then get distracted. Read more

Isotype revisited

2009.09.22

The ‘Isotype revisited’ research project at the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, University of Reading, has now launched its website: here

Hyphen Press catalogue & almanack 2009–2010

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2009.10.30

The Hyphen Press catalogue for 2009–2010 was ready (as is traditional) just in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair. New books are announced here, and every in-print title is shown too. As with last year’s catalogue, at the centre is an ‘almanack’ of texts and images that relate to our new publications. Read more

Isotype exhibition in London

2010.10.18

In December an exhibition presenting the history of Isotype opens at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The show is largely based on material from the Isotype Collection at the University of Reading and is one issue of the ‘Isotype revisited’ project there. Our edition of Otto Neurath’s ‘visual autobiography’ is another.

‘From hieroglyphics to Isotype’: book launch (report)

2011.01.26

A short report, with the introductory remarks by Robin Kinross and Eric Kindel, and Christopher Burke’s more substantial exposition of the making of our edition, can now be found on the ‘Isotype revisited’ website.

‘Typography papers’: a list of contents

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2011.01.09

We get quite frequent enquiries about Typography papers: which issues are still available? how best to try to get hold of out-of-print numbers? contents of the back numbers? And, from subscription agencies: please send us the issue for 2010! We do our best to tell this last kind of enquirer that, from quite early on (after the third issue), Typography papers stopped trying for annual publication and adopted a ’continuing but not annual’ approach: it would appear as and when enough good material had been gathered and the editorial-production group had the time and energy to bring it out. Read more

Isotype: a new book

Large isotype

2011.08.01

We are working on a book, with the title Isotype, which will provide an extensive and detailed history of the work in graphic communication produced under the direction of Otto Neurath. This is a collection of freshly written and fully illustrated essays, supplemented by documents published for the first time in English translation or in transcription. The full extent of Isotype work is covered, from 1925 in Vienna, through the years in The Hague (1934–40), to the period in England up to the closure of production in 1971. The book contains discussion of the beginnings of the work in Vienna, its ‘graphic language’, and its connections with artistic production of that time. There are accounts of the uses to which Isotype was put in the USSR, in the USA, and in Africa. Isotype in film and in children’s books are considered in other contributions. Authors of these essays are Benjamin Benus, Christopher Burke, Hisayasu Ihara, Eric Kindel, Robin Kinross, Emma Minns, and Sue Walker. Read more

An index to the journal

2011.06.29

One way of finding text on this website is via the search function (in the right column of every page). This will get you to any word that has been written anywhere on the website. Here is a more intelligible and selective guide: an index to the main, discursive pieces in the journal pages, to date (end-June 2011). Pieces have been grouped rather crudely by theme, and then are alphabetically ordered by title. (See now the updated index here.) Read more

Copyright in Isotype work

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Robin Kinross / 2017.08.14

Isotype is now the generally used name for the work in visual communication carried out by groups under the direction of Otto Neurath and, after his death in 1945, by Marie (Reidemeister) Neurath. The institutions that produced this work were the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum in Wien [GeWiMu] (1925–34), the International Foundation for Visual Education [IFVE] (1934–40), and the Isotype Institute (1942–71). We have published three books on Isotype: From hieroglyphics to Isotype, The transformer: principles of making Isotype charts, and Isotype: design and contexts, 1925–1971. The question of where copyright in the Isotype work lies has been a persistent one. The notes here provide an answer to it. Read more

‘Typography papers 9’ and ‘Isotype’

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2013.12.10

Copies of our two new titles arrived in the office recently, and we are releasing them for sale today. These are Typography papers 9, edited by Eric Kindel and Paul Luna, and Isotype: design and contexts, 1925–1971, edited by Christopher Burke, Eric Kindel, and Sue Walker. Both books are collaborations with the Department of Typography at the University of Reading; the second book being an outcome of the Isotype revisited project there. Both books have been well printed by Die Keure in Bruges. Both have been well finished and bound (using cold glue) by, respectively, Sepeli in Evergem and Callenbach in Nijkerk. For some people the binding alone will make them worth getting hold of. For others the extraordinarily rich content will be the main reason for acquisition. Read more

‘Gerd Arntz: graphic designer’

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Robin Kinross / 2011.04.26

This book review was written for the Designgeschiedenis Nederland website. It is published here in slightly adapted form, as a follow-up to an earlier review of publications about Isotype. Read more

Isotype: recent publications

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Robin Kinross / 2008.05.12

The recent flourish of interest in the visual work of Otto Neurath – let’s call it Isotype – may be seen as a second wave, coming after a first period of discovery, which included exhibitions of the work in Reading (1975) and Vienna (1982), and an exhibition of the work of the Neurath group’s main artist, Gerd Arntz, in The Hague (1976). From this writer’s point of view, this phase of research culminated in a collection of all Neurath’s writings on the matter (1991).1 Significant contributions of the second wave include the book Bildersprache by Frank Hartmann and Erwin K. Bauer (2002), an exhibition shown in Brno, Prague, Vienna and finally at the Triennale in Milan (2002–3), and now (2008) the book Otto Neurath: the language of the global polis by Nader Vossoughian, with an associated exhibition and events at the Stroom gallery in The Hague. This book and exhibition have indeed been part of a veritable stream of happenings in the Netherlands, which includes a website of Gerd Arntz’s graphic work and a book Lovely language . Hyphen Press is due to contribute to this second wave later this year, with a book titled The transformer. By way of a warm-up for that book, and some clearing of the ground, here are a few thoughts prompted by the most recent publications. Read more