17 Αυγούστου 2010

Rudolf Modley


Rudolf Modley was born in Vienna in 1906. He graduated from the University of Vienna with a doctor of jurisprudence (law) degree. While living in Vienna he came under the influence of Otto Neurath, whom he later referred to as the "Father of Pictography" (Modley 1976, p. ix). Neurath, who was keenly interested in communicating statistics through visuals, developed a style of bar chart that can still be seen today. He also used "pictographs" (pictorial symbols) that told stories and made certain points. Neurath had great hopes for his pictographs. He incorporated them into the ISOTYPE (International System of Typographic Picture Education) system, which he thought would evolve into an international picture language that all people could understand (Neurath 1936, Lupton 1989). Modley moved to the US in the early 30s, where he was appointed as curator of social sciences at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, under Waldemar Kaempffert (Neurath’s cousin). Modley, after experiencing numerous difficulties, created a flourishing business in illustrating magazines, newspapers, official reports and pamphlets with Neurath-like Isotypes. The name of his corporation, Pictograph Inc., could be seen anywhere in these different medias. As Loic and I put it in our paper: “the American reader was [then] more likely to encounter Modley’s version of [pictorial statistics], rather than the original [Neurath's]“. One could dismiss Modley as someone who’s only responsible for the little men and women we find on our bathroom doors. After all, Modley’s pictorial statistics was almost completely stripped of the theoretical and political contents Neurath would attach to it. Neurath himself was quite critical of the way his former disciple used his method. On the other hand, social scientists were very interested in Modley’s enterprise. In the course of our research, we have encountered some important names of social scientists of the period (including economists) who were quite eager to participate in the diffusion of Modley’s little men. On the whole, Modley is one of the central characters in the Americanization of Neurath’s visual method, namely its transformation from a tool of conceptualization into a tool of illustration and consequently, its move from social sciences to propaganda and finally, to graphic design.

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