« blogs | Main | CFP: conference on children's literature and the environment »

Isotype workshop

This post is based on my workshop presentation at the 'Discussing popular science' workshop at Imperial College on Friday. Thanks to Alice for a great event! Though I could only make half the day, I met loads of interesting people, and the discussion-based format was a nice change from the usual.

I chose to bring along some the Max Parrish Isotype books for children that are part of the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype archive held in the Department of Typography in Reading. These were developed by Marie Neurath and published by Max Parrish in London from the late 1940s to the 1960s. The books are innovative in their approach to picture/text integration and characterised by a very systematic approach to pictorial information, colour, layout and writing -- excellent examples of integrated design and layout.


This is just a beauty shot of the covers. 2-page spreads are after the break!

I wanted to show these because it is easy to forget how wide-ranging the work of the Isotype Institute really was -- we tend to think only of isotype charts of social and economic data, but plans for children’s books had been set since the early 1940s, a reflection of the Institute's interest in education. Marie Neurath continued the work of the Institute after Otto’s death in 1945, and worked to write, design (‘transform’), and produce the books along with a small team.




The books deal a variety of themes including nature and biology, science and technology, people of the world, and more. By 1971, the Institute had produced over 80 books for children, which were translated into other languages.


I loved the examples, thanks so much for sharing them! They *really* spoke to me as a visual representation of a particular philosophy of science too - the difference between the isotype approach to an insect's face and Robert Hooke's take on the same shot (myself, I suspect the Isotype one was a deliberate parody of the Hooke).

Absolutely, Neurath was definitely inspired by the encyclopaedists and that whole early modern science thing.

The Hooke reference is just about right -- though i'd call it an hommage rather than a parody!

on the homage/ parody thing -I'd say, philosophically speaking Neurath'd be a tad anti-Hooke, so I doubt it was done out of much reverance. I'm not historically up on that period though... will ask a historian of epitemology next time I see one!

I guess i was thinking in very broad strokes, about the affinity of isotype and the 'encyclopaedic' approach to knowledge -- maybe not precisely like Hooke's? (ultimately its all about nominalism and descriptions based on visual forms rather than verbal ones...)

But yes, lets not go too far down that route, I doubt that Marie Neurath and her team had this at the forfront of their minds when working on the books!