Otto Neurath’s contribution of the ISOTYPE (International System of Typographic Picture Education) system represents an important development in the area of communicative visual design. The success of this system demonstrates the necessity for a means of communication to cross linguistic, cultural, and other barriers – in this case, visual. While Neurath himself was not a graphic designer, much of his work revolved around the study of sociology, and his contribution of the ISOTYPE was a response to the idea that ‘visual methods–even the most careful charts and the most elaborate exhibits–are frequently confusing rather than enlightening, because their elements are unfamiliar’ (Neurath, Visual Education: A New Language).
I feel this thought is largely intriguing also in relation to the familiarity of photography.
To break it down further, the ISOTYPE system is a graphic language that was specifically designed to transcend the boundaries of cultural and language barriers. It is essentially a set of symbols that represent common concepts and send simple messages, which we see and decode near daily in the context of crosswalk signs, etc. It builds on a fundamental human understanding of reality and utilizes simplistic renderings of people completing various activities, where the symbols used are designed with qualities that make them universally understood.
So how does this translate to photography? Especially in light of the recent development of the digital camera, I would argue that the photograph has itself become a universally understood concept.
Because a large percentage of the population are familiar with the concept and process of photography, more specifically because they have personal experience with the medium , they are more likely to interject their own ideas of realism into a given piece of photo realistic visual communication, almost placing themselves within the scenario that the photo was taken. It’s almost as if photography has become its own language of subtly interactive visual communication, the implications of which could be limitless.
Granted, photography has been used as a means of visual communication for years, but if we understood its power as potentially universally understood conversation of sorts, how could we use it more effectively within the broader field of design and communication?
I think the big question is, how can we embrace digital processes within photography while also maintaining this fundamental connection between the viewer, the photograph, and understood reality?