Icons: Repeat, never scale

I’m running a lot of workshops at the moment, and in reviewing delegates’ work, and the work of their organisations, there is one common pitfall: poor use of icons. A few blogs about icons are coming up…

Here I simply want to re-post the tidy demonstration by Otto Neurath – the founding father of pictograms – on the relative merits of scaling over repeating icons. These are photos from an exhibition of his work I visited five years ago.

The first one shows how you can glean more information, and more precise information, from repeating units than you can from scaling them up. This is the basis of the Isotype method he created. The squares in the demonstration can be replaced by any relevant icon.

isotype_vanda copy
isotype2_vandaAnd here’s an example of the two approaches applied to the same data, with squares replaced by an icon this time.

It shows how much richer the comparison is when you follow Isotype’s golden rule: “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)”.