Data Visualization from 1902 is Quite “Modern”

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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)

Gerd Arntz

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.


Gerd Arntz: Graphic Designer (look inside) is gorgeous book, recently published by 010 Publishers, celebrating his work (Amazon UK | US). (Disclosure: they sent me a review copy).

Why Now?

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?

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