Whether skeuomorphic or flat and minimal, the use of pictograms and iconography are a prevalent visual language nowadays online, so it seems a pertinent time to talk about the two designers who revolutionised the way we look at information, statistics and data.
Otto Neurath and Gerd Arntz are the true pioneers of this.
This is only a brief summary of two massively influential designers, but for a retrospective of Antz’s work I highly recommend his amazing book by 010 publishers and Neurath’s ‘Global Polis’.
Neurath was a social scientist and philosopher who wanted to explore new ways of conveying information and statistics, and he believed in visual symbols to display accurate information that would transcend language barriers. Arntz was a German socialist, print maker and painter whose work focused heavily on the political and class system.
In 1925, Neurath founded the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics (Wiener Methode der Bildstatistik) at the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum. Arntz was called in to create the visual language, working alongside statisticians, artists and cartographers in Vienna, but its key practitioners were forced to leave Vienna by the rise of Austrian Fascism.
Isotype was the method of visualising information in pictorial form – a method where information could be easily processed by the viewer, breaking down any translation barriers. Isotype is a universal language consisting of around 4,000 signs/pictograms that symbolise key data from industry, demographics, politics and economy. The term Isotype (International System of Typographic Picture Education) was applied to the method around 1935.
One of Arntz’s first jobs was creating symbols for the atlas. He created 100 charts mapping the progress of industry, political and socio polls from his inimitable modernist style and social commentary of his previous work. The key to his work is simplicity, but each icon retains individuality by the use of a minor detail.
We can see the influence of this nowadays through lot’s of digital brands – but two that instantly spring to mind (and I think you might have heard of of them) – Apple and Microsoft. In the mid 2000’s Microsoft brought in flat design with their Metro design implementation, and Apple who were a relatively late bloomer, implemented the flat and minimal approach with their iOS7 operating system. The trend has definitely been moving away from skeuomorphism and towards flat design in the past few years. There have been many contributing factors towards this, as consumers are demanding quick and easy digestible information because flat design creates a minimal aesthetic which is a massive contributor to a much clearer and simpler user experience.
Otto Neurath and Gerd Arntz are still a big influence on designers now and recognised as still playing a major part in how we use iconography today.