Yesterday, we featured the story of Otto Neurath , considered the father of Isotype, and last week we raved about the ace iPhone app testing your memory through pictograms by Gerd Arntz , the politically engaged Modernist German graphic designer who collaborated with Neurath on the invention of Isotype. Best-known for his iconic black-and-white wood and linoleum cuts, Arntz also created an astounding array of Isotype color icons spanning nature, industry, people, architecture, mobility, food and more. A major case of Similarities , it seems, and proof that everything does indeed build on what came before. Beautifully designed and thoughtfully written, Gerd Arntz Graphic Designer is both a treasure trove of Isotypes and a priceless overview of the system, its political and historical context, and its timeless design legacy. It takes me hundreds of hours a month to research and compose, and thousands of dollars to sustain.
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This was a rag-bag book that went together with an exhibition of the same name. It was published by its printer, Veenman, in Veenman has since gone out of business as a publisher and that book now suffers a shadowy presence in the market. Gerd Arntz: graphic designer, released last December, is a further publication from the group that made that book. A book about Gerd Arntz and his work would be a good thing to have.
But to describe and understand his work as artist and designer one needs to see him in relation to his colleagues, his commissions, his times. This monograph sees Arntz in isolation, and its approach is again that of the rag-bag: a collection of bits and pieces that its editors have stumbled upon.
One tries to find some meaning: does the sequence represent the passage of history? But there is no meaning here. It is just decoration. These opening pages already betray the spirit of the work they present. The artist who in the s aligned himself with the radical left in Germany and made strong analytical depictions of class society now finds, posthumously, his images turned into doormats and applied to the plates and cups of a discount store. There is a large historical irony at work here, but Annink shows no awareness of it.
The effect of this over the ten pages of the introduction is tiring. Bruinsma was not there at any of these events: he is just pretending that he was.
Given the lack of documentation or qualification in this text, I cannot believe that any of these sentences is true. As a model for visual statistics, the atlas is a success.
In , this leads among other things to an invitation to come to the young Soviet Union and set up an institute for visual statistics in Moscow, Isostat, an institution which directly reports to the Soviet Central Committee.
Also the name of the Soviet institute is properly transcribed as Izostat, not Isostat. Otto Neurath established his Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum at the start of A crucial step in this development was his meeting with Marie Reidemeister, in October Marie Reidemeister joined the new venture on 1 March Reidemeister learned the work of transformation from Otto Neurath.
Marie Reidemeister later Neurath once described it in this way: From the data given in words and figures a way has to be found to extract the essential facts and put them into picture form.
In this sense, the transformer is the trustee of the public. He has to remember the rules and to keep them, adding new variations where advisable, at the same time avoiding unnecessary deviations which would only confuse. He has to produce a rough of the chart in which many details have been decided: title; arrangement, type, number and colour of symbols; caption, etc. It is a blueprint from which the artist works.
The transformer was thus, we would say now, the designer of the Isotype work: she or he ordered the material and put it into visual form.
Annink and Bruinsma imagine that Arntz was the principal designer, but he was not. Vivid proof of this can be found when one looks through the charts made at the museum from to , before Arntz joined. It was a time of continuous experiment and self-critical development, during which all the main principles of configuration were worked out. This was the achievement of Marie Reidemeister and Otto Neurath, and others who engaged in the work — Friedrich Bauermeister among them.
He did have an eye for the more peripheral aspects of the charts: the titles, captions, and their typographic treatment. He told me, when I interviewed him in the s, that this type had already been acquired when he arrived. My MPhil thesis at Reading was never published. The chapter that discussed principles of the design of the charts will be published in an anthology of essays on Isotype, now in active preparation at the Department of Typography at Reading.
Arntz also knew other artists who could join in this work of drawing symbols, and some of those who joined the Museum in its time of greatest production came through him.
But the work was always team work, and Arntz took his place in the group as the brilliant designer of symbols to be used in something larger — whole charts.
They were never meant to be seen on their own. The editors of this work never get to grips with their subject. These symbols were drawn to sit in rows. They were units to be repeated. Two measured drawings by Arntz are shown pp. These are nice examples of the symbols made into modules: perfectly symmetrical and with the weight of the forms distributed so that they can sit happily in rows.
A remark in a caption gives Annink and Bruinsma away. They notice that in an array of symbols drawn by Arntz for the Izostat Institute there are some that show groups rather than single figures. He did this at the request of the designer of the chart: the transformer, who had worked out what to show, with how many units, at roughly what size, and in which colour.
So throughout the book no attempt is made to relate the individual symbols to their uses. One can imagine a fascinating research project that would trace symbols in the files to their use in charts. Reuse of symbols in different charts was the ideal, but how often did it actually happen? Many of the symbols whose prints are pasted into these folders were, I strongly suspect, used just once: the folders acted more as an inventory of symbols made, rather than a bank for future use.
Historical and contextual placing is the way to bring something alive. Here this wonderful material is allowed to die. These thoughts were first written in a review of the book review in Eye magazine no.
Spiekermann restates my own discussion of this chart in the book he is reviewing, The transformer. This visual lie is enforced through placing them on the same background. Again, the designers of Gerd Arntz: graphic designer show themselves to have learned nothing from Isotype and its drive to truthful representation. The book carries on in the same way. A selection of Isotype charts is reproduced. They do not improve with this recycling.
In a large part of Austria, including Vienna, traffic was driving left at the time. After the Nazis took over Austria in , this changed, and now also all of Europe, with the exception of the United Kingdom, drives at the right.
Gerd Arntz: graphic designer is a big shame, and a horrible waste of effort and material. It shows the dangers of image-driven designers leading a project without intelligent editorial advice.
According to the imprint on the title page and in the colophon the publisher is in Rotterdam. Jobbing commentators have responded with enthusiasm.
It is published here in slightly adapted form, as a follow-up to an earlier review of publications about Isotype. Some books on the subject of Isotype were discussed here two years ago; among them was Lovely language edited by Ed Annink and Max Bruinsma. This was a rag-bag book that went together with an exhibition of the same name. It was published by its printer, Veenman, in Veenman has since gone out of business as a publisher and that book now suffers a shadowy presence in the market.
‘Gerd Arntz: graphic designer’