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The Rise and Fall of a Worldian Language: Amenity Icons from ISOTYPE to OpenStreetMap


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NACIS 2016 Presentation
Will Payne, UC Berkeley
Episodes of standardization and divergence in the icons used by cartographers and designers over time help illuminate the broader political economy of mapping, tourism, navigation, and the contemporary geoweb. In this talk, I trace the development of the familiar "fork and knife," "cocktail glass," and "coffee cup" symbols to socialist designers in interwar Vienna who created the ISOTYPE system of pictorial statistics, through the 1960s standardization of pictograms for global travel, sports, and conventions (Buckminster Fuller hailed these symbols as a "worldian language"), up to the present day. Open-source and proprietary geoweb applications extend these conventions in different ways, reflecting the interests of developers and users: for example, sponsored corporate logos in Waze and alternate bar icons in OpenStreetMap (adding British pint glasses and German steins). Ironically, a form of visual communication intended to unite a global working class has ended up facilitating economic integration and consumption by global elites.

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The Rise and Fall of a Worldian Language: Amenity Icons from ISOTYPE to OpenStreetMap

  1. 1. The Rise and Fall of a “Worldian Language”: Amenity Symbols from ISOTYPE to OpenStreetMap NACIS 2016 Will Payne - Geography PhD Student University of California, Berkeley
  2. 2. I: Interwar Socialist Origins
  3. 3. ISOTYPE: 1924+
  4. 4. ISOTYPE: 1924+
  5. 5. “Few people today read Neurath's original intentions in international picture signs. Like many genres of modern design, the signs have been thoroughly integrated into corporate and bureaucratic identity programs.” Ellen Lupton, “Reading ISOTYPE,” 1986.
  6. 6. II: Midcentury Standardization and Style
  7. 7. Rudolf Modley: 1920s+
  8. 8. “What is needed, internationally, is a set of glyphs which does not refer to any single phonological system or to any specific cultural system of images.” Margaret Mead, 1966
  9. 9. Rudolf Modley: 1920s+
  10. 10. Fodors: 1960s+
  11. 11. “[I]t is imperative for man to be able to communicate with any other man no matter where he may live. This need, accented by jet travel, is felt universally today. […] Hopefully, with this Sourcebook, standard symbols will some day be understood by all, regardless of language or culture.” Henry Dreyfuss, Symbol Sourcebook, 1972
  12. 12. Henry & Doris Dreyfuss: 1972
  13. 13. Henry & Doris Dreyfuss: 1972
  14. 14. “Henry Dreyfuss [is creating] a worldian language so powerfully generalized as to swiftly throw into obsolescence the almost fatally lethal trends of humanity’s age-long entrapment in specializations.” Buckminster Fuller, Introduction to Symbol Sourcebook, 1972
  15. 15. Henry & Doris Dreyfuss: 1972
  16. 16. III: The AIGA Legacy
  17. 17. AIGA / U.S. Dept of Transportation: 1974+
  18. 18. AIGA / U.S. Dept of Transportation: 1974+
  19. 19. AIGA / U.S. Dept of Transportation: 1974+
  20. 20. AIGA / U.S. Dept of Transportation: 1974+
  21. 21. AIGA / U.S. Dept of Transportation: 1974+
  22. 22. Google Earth: 2007+
  23. 23. “The chicken wing—or just the silhouette chicken—has never made it to Google Maps for a reason. These ideas just don’t speak as well as the fork and knife.” Patrick Hoffman, Cartographer, Google, 2011
  24. 24. Google Maps: 2011+ Bing Maps: 2010+
  25. 25. IV: Lifestyle Segmentation and Crowdsourcing
  26. 26. Apple Maps: 2012+
  27. 27. Airbnb: 2015+
  28. 28. Zomato (formerly Urbanspoon): 2015+
  29. 29. OpenStreetMap: 2006+
  30. 30. Thank you.