Visual methods for explanation and education

This afternoon I went along to the V&A to see Isotype: International picture language. Beyond just the icons for which they were so well known it showcases examples of work from the different periods of Otto and Marie Neurath’s careers, and that of their collaborators.

Small and well explained it was really good. More surprisingly though, it was also really relevant.

The principles behind Isotype haven’t dated, still serving as a good infographics primer today. How about this for some convincing, illustrated advice on comparison of quantities. The top frame explains the Isotype Method, the bottom frame shows some of the symbols that can be substituted for the squares:

And advice on why not to scale up icons. The accompanying text reads “The principal rule of Isotype is that a greater quantity should not be represented by an enlarged pictogram (upper chart) but instead by a greater number of pictograms repeated at the same size (lower chart).”

A brilliant “infovideo” was on show too, done for the Ministry of Information in 1941 to illustrate the importance of saving scrap to replace materials lost in the Atlantic convoys. Unlike so many infovideos out there today the icons were explained upfront, their usage was consistent, the message was clear.

And an idea for an art exhibition that wouldn’t seem out of place in 2011: Not including the original artworks but instead examine the historical background and social context of the artist’s (Rembrandt) work. And house it, not in an art gallery, but simultaneously in three branches of a department store. In 1938.

And so much more beyond the icons they’re best known for. Really inspiring stuff if you’re interested in visual methods for explanation and education. The colours, layout, typography, simplicity work so well.

It’s on until 13th March. Go take a look.