Pictograms of people: depicting individuals and groups

Aesthetics, Data Visualization, Design

The infographic below shows a comparison of the pictograms of contemporay artist Julian Opie, and graphic designers Rudolf Modley and Gerd Arntz. While Arntz and Modley depicted members of specific groups (professions, socio-economic groups), Opie uses a very similar design language to depict individuals.

I created this infographic after visiting the exhibition Sculpture 21st: Julian Opie at the Lehmbruck Museum Duisburg. Here’s a photo of the exhibition space from outside the building. The exhibition consisted of several sculptures and an animated LED screen.

Julian Opie is a contemporary british artist. He is best known for portraits in a simplified cartoon-like style. He also produces paintings, sculptures, and animations of walking figures in a pictographic style. The genius of Julian Opie is that he uses a simplified, pictographic design language to portrait individuals with their characteristic features. A large number of his works can be seen on Julian Opies’s website. The walking figures for the graphic was extracted from the painting City Walkers, 2018, a rare example of a work in black and white.

German artist Gerd Arntz designed pictograms for Isotype infographics in the 1920s and 30s. The work was under the direction of Otto Neurath and in collabation with Marie Neurath at the social and economic museum in Vienna. Examples of Arntz’s work can notable be found in the Gerd Arntz Web Archive.

Rudolf Modley had already worked on pictograms with Otto Neurath in the 1920s. When he emmigrated to the USA in the 1930s, he founded Pictural Statistics Incorporated and developed his own Isotype-style pictograms.

Contemporary Designer John Caserta wrote a short tutorial on how to create pictograms in this style from photographs. There is also a selection of resulting pictograms showing contemporary activities available.

In Isotype statistical infographics, pictograms of people usually stand for numbers of people of a specific group. For instance one pictogram of a soldier would stand for 1 million soldiers. The pictograms thus show the clothing and tools characteristic for the depicted profession or socio-economic group. The infographic by Rudolf Modley depicts workers in the agricultural and in other sectors (picture source: wikimedia commons).

Pictograms of people in contemporary signage tend to be even more abstract, depicting even more general groups. For instance athletes of a sport in the olympic pictograms, men and women on toilet signs, or simple humans (walking) on traffic signs.