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Illustration from “War and Human Nature”, 1946

Revisiting a pamphlet from 1946 that helps explain what is happening in America right now

We all know about being doomed to repeat the past, despite the fact that nearly all our current social, cultural, and political issues have precedence. On January 6th, a mob of Trump loyalists stormed the US Capitol building for several hours, violently acting on their politically opportunistic frustrations. The caustic emotions on display in Washington D.C. have set many people around the world on a journey to find answers.

For many of us involved in historic research, we naturally began to dig into digital and physical archives to see what we might find to guide us. My focus is primarily on historical data visualization, and in specific, on pictorial statistics. In researching the work of Rudolf Modley, who had a massive influence on information graphics in the US from 1935 to the 1950s, I stumbled across a vast series of obscure pamphlets issued in the name of public education. …

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Resettlement Administration exhibit at San Diego Fair, California, May 1936 (Library of Congress)

As we’re all trying to keep pace with the sweeping world events of today, I started to think back to an earlier time of volatility. The period between the world wars showed a similar complex reality in the US, eventually resulting in massive infrastructural changes created during the New Deal.

In 1929, the US Great Depression emphasized a series of structural weaknesses in the US economy (and social fabric). Herbert Hoover’s ineffectual political response resulted in one of the biggest landslide victories in US politics to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the election of 1932. …

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It’s honestly hard to believe that it has been only a year since I announced the founding of Nightingale. As the editor-in-chief, it’s been an exhilarating journey of friendships, meetings, late-night editing, and the daily joy of sharing articles (and voices) that we all care deeply about. Here, on our first birthday, I thought I’d take a few moments to share some reflections and thank-yous. I’ll try not to get too philosophical.

While it’s thrilling to consider what we have done, we also need to take stock of how different the world we live in today is. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape global societies in ways that we are still struggling to understand. Like everything, Nightingale has its own set of pandemic-related challenges and opportunities, so it’s difficult to really imagine what our next year will look like when our present is so chaotically uncertain. …
112 Telefact charts from 1938–1938, syndicated by Pictograph Corporation

While Otto Neurath invented the Isotype in Vienna in 1925 and guided its evolution to international acclaim, he was not successful in the United States. Unfortunately, his method of pictorial statistics was not readily taught in schools and is not (yet) practiced today.

But it turns out that isotype charts were prevalent in US government documents in the 1930s and 1940s. If you look for them, you can find isotypes sprinkled all over the US during this time — they just weren’t made by Otto or Marie Neurath. No, the growth and popularity of pictorial statistics in the USA are thanks to a different under-recognized figure in design history: Dr. …

An interview with the Financial Times data-journalist about his experience visualizing the COVID-19 pandemic

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One hears the word ‘unprecedented’ a lot these days. It’s as if the language we use to explain our world is breaking down and superlatives just aren’t able to keep up with the new reality brought to us by the coronavirus pandemic. Living through the past month has brought an avalanche of hard to answer questions, as we’re limited to data that is sparse and difficult to analyze.

Many have noted the importance of data visualization in helping people attempt to make sense of it all with a few data journalists contributing significant impact. One of them is John Burn-Murdoch of the Financial Times (FT), whose breakout moment came on March 11 when his first log scale chart comparing the trajectory of infection rates between countries helped millions of people around the world understand that the pandemic was a trend just beginning in England and the USA. …

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The spine of “The Struggle for Five Years in Four” as photographed in the NYPL, photo by the author

Documenting the little-known Isotypes created by the IZOSTAT — a Soviet ‘spin-off’ by Otto Neurath in 1932

Libraries are full of knowledge waiting to be discovered. This untapped potential knowledge is hard to truly understand until you try to grasp the enormity of what is archived. Listening to the artist Jer Thorpe’s brilliant podcast, Artist in the Archive, created during an artist residency at the Library of Congress, one begins to grasp how futile the act of understanding the vastness of knowledge contained in our libraries can be. The same is true for the vastness of the internet. Luckily, we have Worldcat to help us find things.

In continuing my research on Otto and Marie Neurath, I was curious about a work created by the IZOSTAT (All-union Institute of Pictorial Statistics of Soviet Construction and Economy) and found (via Worldcat) that it had not been digitized, but it was available at the New York Public Library (NYPL). A few days later I went to the library to see it and knew at once that I had to share it with others. Below, for the first time that I can find, is a digitized version of the whole book. …

What else are you gonna do during your weeks (months) of COVID-19 social distancing?

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With all this self-imposed social distancing (which is important and necessary) we have to keep ourselves amused somehow. My colleague passed over an emoji game which has been spreading in the UK, which I loved so much that I then decided to make my own!

One of the great things about playing (and making) this kind of emoji game is that it helps you think about visual language and how we communicate with signs. …

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RJ Andrews presenting his map at the David Rumsey Map Center

Breathing life into Isotype through a contemporary remake

If one is a fan of Nightingale, then hopefully the name RJ Andrews means something to you already. He helped us dig into the dataviz work of Florence Nightingale when we launched and he’s a regular contributor on all things historic dataviz. Beyond that, he’s my friend with a common passion — Isotype.

Recently, his Isotype-inspired fold-out map Cross-sections Through California caused a ruckus on Kickstarter snagging the coveted “Projects We Love” designation. If you act quickly, you can still contribute $26 to the campaign for a map and get a copy for yourself. …

Reflections on photography and New York City living in 2019

I bought a camera for Christmas last year. Yes, I reviewed the options, prices, and functionality of many brands and models like any closet-obsessive, and in the end, I chose an Olympus OM-D Mark III. It looks like a classic 35mm film camera, but much smaller. The OM-D feels good in your hand, and it has remarkable motion stabilization. I bought it because I thought I was going to make videos, but instead, I just have been taking still photos. I figured I’d make better photos of my family (and I have) but I didn’t have a plan or a vision. …

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Lessons of Isotype — PART 3

Discussing the charts in the Book Series “America & Britain”

Of all the grand, utopian plans created by modernist designers, Isotype is, perhaps, the least understood. There’s much to be told in the story of the Isotype, yet despite a great deal of academic writing, it is also common to be confused about what an Isotype chart actually is. What better way to learn more about Isotype and gain inspiration from their designs than to view and discuss the work itself?

The International System Of Typographic Picture Education (ISOTYPE) was invented by Otto Neurath in collaboration his wife Marie Neurath and Gerd Arntz. While assisted by many, this core Isotype team sought to create “educational designs by bringing dead statistics to life”. In 1925, Otto founded a museum in Vienna for educating the public on social and economic issues (Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum) with the motto: “It is better to remember simplified images than to forget exact figures.”


Jason Forrest

Dataviz Designer at McKinsey, Editor-in-chief at Nightingale, Electronic Musician. Contact & more:

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