Pictograms permeate our public and domestic environments. They are used in public and road signage, instructional graphics, and commercial and domestic technologies.
Pictograms are a type of graphic symbol which communicate their meaning through their form. Ideally they are intended to stand alone but in practice are often used in conjunction with words which either repeat the meaning of the pictogram or add more specific information. Common example is roadsigns which show both a picture of an airplane and the word 'airport'. A very few alphanumeric (word symbols), such as the 'P' which internationally designates parking space, now have the status of pictograms.
The essential difference between pictograms and other visual symbols is that pictograms are visually standardised and intended to be independent of their cultural context. In addition, pictograms are scalable -- capable of being presented at a range of scales without loss of information.
Pictograms can be
- More concise
- More compact
- More compelling
BUT they require a degree of education and familiarity to 'read'.
The ISO (International Standardisation Organisation), based in Geneva, ensures the international standardisation of pictographic symbols.
The first Michelin guide (1900) first used pictograms to communicate complex information efficiently and compactly (as opposed to much public use -- see Shiphol pictograms -- where they add nothing to available text but serve as visual 'noise').
Pictograms came into general use around 1970 with Siemans, Phillips and Toyota being early adopters.
"Words divide. Pictures unite"
Isotype is an abbreviation of 'International Standard System of Typographic Picture Education'.
Austrian economist, Otto Neurath who, as director of the Vienna Social and Economic Museum introduced his 'Isotype method' in 1936. This consisted of a 'visual dictionary' of about 2000 symbols and a visual grammar -- for putting them together. He believed that the universal adoption of his system would transform the world: "The Isotype method may very well become one of the factors that help bring about a civilisation where all people share a common culture and where the gulf between educated and uneducated will be bridged."
The very first known 'plot' dates back to the 10-th century (VD-28: first known graph). This was about the same time that Guido of Arezzo was developing the two-dimensional musical staff notation very similar to the one we use today. In the 15-th century Nicolas of Cusa developed graphsÊ of distance versus speed. In the 17th century Rene Descartes established analytic geometry which was used only for the display of mathematical functions. But the main initiator for informative graphics was William Playfair (1759-1823) who developed the line, bar, and pie charts as we know them today.
Otto Neurath, "From Hieroglyphs to Isotypes" in Future Books Vol III, Adprint, London, undated c1945.
Edward E.Tufte, Envisioning Information, Graphics Press, Cheshire, Conn., 1990
Edward E.Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Graphics Press, Cheshire, Conn., 1983
Albarn and Smith, diagram; the Instrument of Thought, Thames & Hudson London 1977
Visual Education: A New Language by Otto Neurath.
The Deadly Follies of Stick Figure Warning-Man and his Family
shiralee saul 2002 pictogram index >>