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Chapter 19 - The Viennese method, and Burtin's Models.

In 1921, Otto Neurath (1882-1945) , an Austrian social scientist, wanted to facilitate the understanding of various social and economical trends through a creative combination of statistical charts and graphic design. In 1924, Neurath argued for the establishment of a Museum of Economy and Society, an institution that would educate the public and provide social information. In May 1925, the Museum was opened and its first graphical displays tried to simplify various complicated social and economical trends. By using charts which were to be intuitive and interesting the attempt was made to make those socio-economic concepts easy to grasp for an average citizen. This style of presentation at the time was called the Viennese method, but now it is known as ISOTYPE charts (International System of Typographic Picture Education).

"Followers of the World’s Major Religions" from Die Bunte Welt, by Otto Neurath, 1929

In , 1929, he published his  Die Bunte Welt (The Colorful World). This was a pioneering work of graphic design and heralded the arrival of visual communication era. Neurath had attempted to develop a universal visual language which is reflected in the book’s tables, such as "The Population of Asia, not including East Asia and Australia," and "Followers of the World’s Major Religions." Here, Neurath illustrates population figures with simplified composites of the then-prevailing national characteristics — turbans for the Indians, kimonos for the Japanese, sampan hats for the Indonesians.


Gerd Arntz (1900-1988) was born in a German family of traders and manufacturers. He was a socio-political activist in Dusseldorf, where he joined a movement that aimed to turn Germany into a radical-socialist state. As a revolutionary artist, Arntz was connected to the Cologne based ‘progressive artists group’ (Gruppe progressiver Künstler Köln) and depicted the life of workers and the class struggle in abstracted figures on woodcuts. Published in leftist magazines, his work was noticed by Otto Neurath who for his ‘Vienna method of visual statistics’ needed a designer of pictograms that could summarize a subject at a glance. Neurath invited the young artists to come to Vienna in 1928, and work on further developing his ISOTYPE. Arntz designed around 4000 different pictograms and abstracted illustrations for this system.

Neurath’s motto was ‘words divide, images unite’. Many of his designs together with those of his protégé Gerd Arntz were the forebears of pictograms we now encounter everywhere, such as the man and woman on toilet doors. As Marina Vishmidt suggests: "Neurath's pictograms owe much to the Modernist belief that reality may be modified by being codified – standardised, easy-to-grasp templates as a revolution in human affairs.

Alfred Mahlau


Alfred Mahlau (1894 - 1967) German painter, illustrator and teacher, who is best known for his graphical work and illustrations, has introduced many innovative techniques for producing information signs . He used a simple but sophisticated color scheme that helped to attract and focus the attention of the viewers. His elegant choice of lettering together with geometric compositions created powerful images that were aesthetically pleasing.

Ostseebad; Travemunde, 1935
Mahlau studied at “Staatliche Kunstschule” in Berlin, and after World War I worked predominantly in Lübeck as a painter and graphic artist. Some of his clients included the Schwartauer Werke, a food manufacturer who still use the logo he designed for them. He also designed the identity for the Niederegger marzipan and sweets maker, another identity still in use. In 1946, he began teaching at the College of Fine Arts in Hamburg. He also had designed patterns for textiles, did set design, and created the stained-glass windows in the Lübeck Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck). Mahlau also did many illustrations for various books, including some children’s books. His work is collected by the Busch-Reisinger Museum, among others.

Norcische Woche, Lubeck, 1921

Will Burtin

Will Burtin(1908, 1972), was born in Cologne. He was a graphic designer for Fortune magazine and the Upjohn Company, specializing in "scientific visualization." He pioneered important contributions to international typography and visual design, and is best known as the world leader in using design to interpret science. He was a proponent of 'clean', uncluttered sans-serif typography; and for his large-scale three-dimensional models, which carried the craft and the art of display to new heights.
Burtin enroled at Handwerkskammer Köln to study typography in 1922, and at the same time started his apprenticeship in typesetting studio of Dr. Philippe Knöll, in Cologne. After graduation in 1926 he began to study graphic and industrial design at the Kölner Werkschulen with Richard Riemerschmied and Jacob Erbar. In 1927, he set up a design studio in Cologne, creating booklets, posters, type books, exhibitions, displays, advertising and movies in German and French. His studio became so successful that Josef Goebbels asked him to become design director at the German Propaganda Ministry. In 1938, when Hitler repeated the invitation, Burtin and his wife Hilde Munk Burtin made their hasty escape to United States, with the help of his wife's relative Max Munk, aeronautics pioneer and inventor of the wind tunnel.Immediately after after arriving in New York, Within a short period after arriving in New York, he Designed FlexOprop logo, trademark of Munk Aeronautical Laboratory. Shortly afterward he landed contract to design Federal Works Agency Exhibition for U.S. Pavilion at New York World's Fair. In 1939, he began to teach communication design at Pratt Institute, New York. 

Soon after, had designed Upjohn's entire product line of medicine bottles, ointment tubes and packaging - and even the company letterhead. He was drafted into the US Army in 1943,where he designed training manuals for aerial gunners. Fortune magazine asked the army to release him “in the national interest”, and he became Fortune’s art editor. In 1947, Burtin commissioned Lester Beall to create the Modernist “British Railways” cover for the April issue of Fortune magazine, which represents a fine example of the graphic “layering” technique. He developed a design philosphy called Integration, in which the designer conveyed information with visual communication that is based on four principal realities.

The four realities:
the reality of man as measure and measurer
the reality of light, color, texture
the reality of space, motion, time
the reality of science

Using this approach to design problems was essentially the birth of what later became known as multimedia. By integrating all four realities into a design solution, Burtin could solve seemingly insoluble puzzles.

Burtin was truly dedicated to his profession. It is said of him that he was so meticulous that at Fortune a “Burtin” was the term used to describe a particle smaller than a point. He had left no stone unturned to produce an elegant and superb design. He loved graphic design and he was not doing it for money, in fact he never made a fortune. He had a curious, inquiring mind, and was enchanted by the scientific discoveries and loved to study and work with new materials. According to architect Serge Chermayeff Burtin was interesred in the

“new art of visualization, of giving visual form in two and three dimensions to a message, which may be apprehended simultaneously through the senses and the intellect and is the product of a new kind of artist functionary evolved by our complex society. Among the small band of pioneers who have developed this new language by bringing patient research and brilliant inventiveness is Will Burtin.”
A chart comparing the impacts of penicillin, streptomycin and neomycin on bacteria.
In 1957, Burtin convinced Upjohn's president Jack Gauntlett and Dr. Garrard Macleod, director of special projects, to finance the construction of a large-scale scientific model of a human red blood cell 24 feet across and 12 feet high, and it was here, that according to Remington and Fripp,
“that the modern concept of scientific visualization was born”.
In this, he visualized the relationship between spatial forms and their functions, and with his visionary insights simplified the scientific communications.

His walk-thru model - built of plastic tubing, wires and colored lights - one million times larger than life, was unveiled in September 1958 at the American Medical Association's meeting in San Francisco. It was a sensation, and would eventually pave the way for Burtin to create four more sophisticated scientific models of the brain, the metabolism and blood vessels for Upjohn and an atomic energy model for Union Carbide. In short, Burtin was an innovator in the field of information design who can rightly be described as visionary.

Go to the next chapter; Chapter 20 - Pictograms in Olympics

  • Nader Vossoughian, Otto Neurath: The Language of the Global Polis, NAi Publishers (July 1, 2008) ISBN 9056623508 ISBN 978-9056623500
  • Ellen Lupton, Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students (Design Briefs), Princeton Architectural Press; 1 edition (September 9, 2004), ISBN 1568984480, ISBN 978-1568984483
  • Remington, R. Roger and Robert S.P. Fripp, Design and Science; The Life and Work of Will Burtin, published by Lund Humphries (London) and Ashgate Publishing (New York) ,2007, ISBN: 978-0-85331-968-9

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