My conceit, when I started making infographics, was simple. I believed this was a *new way* of expressing and visualizing information, a thoroughly modern and zeitgeisty fusion of data and design. Oh you muppet David.
These infographics were created by students of American African-American activist W.E.Dubois in 1902. They’re so modern looking! Right down to the type. So much so, in fact, I had to double-check they weren’t fakes. But no, there’s a huge stack of them in the Library Of Congress. Read a fascinating post on how and why they were created. And a great side-by-side vintage vs modern display here. (Thanks to @JonAkwue for sending)
Then there’s ISOTYPE – the International System Of TYpographic Picture Education. It was an early infographical form, originated in the 1930s by Austrian philosopher and curator Otto Neurath “as a symbolic way of representing quantitative information via easily interpretable icons.” Again, it’s eye-popping how modern these images look. Despite being fashioned from woodcuts and hand-printing methods. Gorgeous.
There’s a gorgeous small-format book on Isotype by Neurath’s wife Marie and Robin Kinross that’s worth a look. (Disclosure: they sent me a review copy)
The vibe of ISOTYPE, and its tight visual language, depended heavily on the pictographic work of German artist Gerd Arntz. He developed over 5000 icons and pictograms, which formed the syllables of the ISOTYPE language. His work has had a strong influence on modern iconography.
So infography has risen and fallen in history. Could it ‘catch’ this time? Feels to me like it could. There’s now a viable medium (the web) and an increasingly visually-literate audience. But, again, is that my conceit? Could infographics and visualized information wipe-out again?
Cecily Sommers is the Founder & President of The Push Institute, a non‐profit think tank that tracks the ideas, technologies, and people that will, to quote its mission statement and push the future in new directions.
Cecily speaks, writes, and consults on the practical value of all that big thinking, particularly as it relates to building brand-specific, future-focused innovation portfolios. She is a semi-regular contributor to Public Radio’s All Things Considered , was named as one of “Twenty‐Five Women” to Watch by the Business Journal, and selected as one of Fast Company’s “2007 Fast 50 Reader’s Favorites.”