In this post I would like to announce a private project that I will start very soon. Every month I will publish a modernized version of an illustration that was made originally by the late Gerd Arntz. Gerd Arntz has created many statistical datavisualizations, starting from around 1930. In each publication, I will take an original production and update it with current statistics and modernize it so it will become an interactive visualization. My project has received approval by the Gerd Arntz Estate, which consists of Gerd Arntz’ heirs (‘erven Gerd Arntz’), to whom I’m very grateful.
Below a description of how I became interested in the work of Gerd Arntz and why I started this project.
Two years ago, I was working on an assignment at Statistics Netherlands (CBS). I needed some icons and my colleagues advised me to look into the works of Gerd Arntz. I had never heard of Gerd Arntz before and even though I was impressed by the icons, I couldn’t find what I was looking for and soon forgot about it. About half a year ago, I was again looking for icons and stumbled upon the works of the Austrian philosopher, sociologist and economist Otto Neurath. Around 1920-1930, he invented a visual language called ‘International System of TYpographic Picture Education’ (ISOTYPE) to communicate statistics to a non-academic audience. Neurath needed a graphic artist to visualize and realize his concept of ISOTYPE. When he saw the works of the then young Gerd Arntz, he knew that Arntz was the artist that he was looking for. Together, they have produced hundreds of works. When I saw the work ‘Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft (1931)‘, I was amazed by the design and execution of the drawings.
Browsing through the ISOTYPE archive, it is clear that this is a system that still works today. These days, we are flooded by infographics. It happens too often that people make mistakes in visualizing information and thereby unintentionally misleading their audience. Neurath described some valuable rules back in 1936 in ‘International Picture Language – The first rules of Isotype‘. I think that we as infographics or datavisualisation designers, should learn from the ‘Old Masters’ and should try to prevent making mistakes that have been described decades before.
I did some research (i.e. Google-ing around) on Gerd Arntz and found out that in 2013 it will be 25 years ago that he passed away. In february 2012, I co-organized a datavisualisation seminar together with Bas Broekhuizen and Statistics Netherlands. We may be organizing another seminar in 2013 and it would be great if the works of Gerd Arntz would somehow be featuring during this event, since he has made many illustrations for Statistics Netherlands. But it hasn’t been decided yet that we will be organising a seminar in 2013. Therefore, I want to make my own tribute to him, indepently of whatever seminar. This has led to my private project: Modernising static ISOTYPE productions. My goal is to (re)create a visualisation each month, although that may become bi-monthly due to other commitments.
I have to do more research before I start the project. During the project I will get more insight in how interactivity is best deployed and how animations should take place while still respecting the original work. To give an idea, this is an orignal work by Gerd Arntz (click to enlarge):
A possible modernised version adds interactivity to it (selecting years and categories) and a greater number of countries. Stepping through the years will cause the number of icons to icrease or decrease. I will have to find out how this is best animated.
Bas Broekhuizen, lecturer and researcher in Journalism and Media at the University of Amsterdam, has already shown interest in the project and we may be working on some publications together.
If you have any ideas of topics or illustrations to work with, feel free to leave a comment!