Transformation is a design process which involves defining the relationship between data and image. It is an attempt to use figurative language to present abstract relationships and concepts. It is often based on the search for synthesis and even breaking the Western culture’s traditional opposition between image and natural language, between quantitative and qualitative values, between the tangible and the abstract as well as what is individual and what is collective.
Among the ample legacy of Isotype books, we find the Modern Man in the Making (Neurath 1939) of special interest. A proposal to describe the history of mankind in a publication whose size and format are more akin to a geographical atlas, than an academic monograph, reveals a typical modernist ambition – if not conceit – that synthesising vast historical knowledge is a feasible task.
Importantly, the authors are not interested in traditional historical narrative focusing on political events or wars. Instead, they give their utmost attention to social and economic issues and their impact on human emancipation. Even the type of content presented, e.g. statistical data on economic output, demographics and quality of life, forces the use of a data-driven approach to storytelling. In one of the visualisations, designed by Gerd Arntz, authors try to capture the essence of the industrial revolution by showing the way textile production changed between 1820 and 1880.