Communicating Knowledge Visually presents a timely, in-depth examination of information design pioneer, Will Burtin. Using a methodical approach, the authors analyze Burtin’s way of working and nine of his seminal projects, including his exhibitions for The Upjohn Company and diagrams for SCOPE magazine.
Excerpts taken from Burtin's unpublished writing offer insight into his thinking process and explain how he transformed complex scientific information into easy, accessible visual forms. Scientists, designers, educators and students will gain valuable knowledge from Burtin's unique design approach in meeting the current challenges of communicating complexity in their respective fields.
Foreword by Steven Heller.
About the Authors
R. Roger Remington is the Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design Emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. He is an experienced teacher, scholar and author with critical interests in graphic design history, research, archiving and interpretation of historical documents.
Sheila Pontis, Ph.D. works at the intersection of information design, cognitive science and field research. As a design educator, she has taught in Argentina, Spain, the UK, and the US, most recently at Princeton University. Pontis is a partner at Sense Information Design, a design consultancy in the New York area.
Publisher: RIT Press (11/2021)
Illustrations: 139, mostly color
Size: 9 x 12 in.
Shipping Weight: 2lb
Find this book at RIT Libraries
The Daily Heller: Will Burtin’s Seeing is Understanding Design
Will Burtin broke through many communication barriers which had limited traditional communication forms. R. Roger Remington and Sheila Pontis’ new book Will Burtin’s Scientific Approach to Information Design is a brilliant choice to bring this history into relevance today. It is cleverly supported by unique archival materials which have never been seen before by the public.
—Richard Saul Wurman, Information Architect
With their new book, Roger Remington and Sheila Pontis take a fresh look at why Burtin’s work—making sense out of complexity—is so important today. Using a clear, methodical, and well-organized format (Burtin would have loved it!), the authors describe in detail a number of his graphic projects, and also his three-dimensional, walk-in explanations of various functions in the human body.
—Nigel Holmes, Graphic Designer
Will Burtin’s modernist aesthetics and human-centered approach contributed immensely to the history of modern design. Driven by a passion to clarify complex issues, he established a workflow that included scientific research and user interviews as part of his regular practice. This book is a beautiful walk through Burtin’s most impressive exhibition and editorial projects, and demonstrates how design and accessibility are insolubly intertwined in information design and its related fields.
—Sandra Rendgen, Visualization Strategist
Sheila Pontis and Roger Remington provide a clear and engaging account of designer Will Burtin’s guiding philosophy and the contextthat shaped it. In the course of describing Burtin’s scientific approach to design–and using it more broadly as a framework for examining the practice and teaching of information design today–the authors prompted me to think more critically about my own science visualization influences and methodology. There’s lots of food for thought here for sciencecentric graphics fans, students, practitioners, and educators alike.
—Jen Christiansen, Art Director, Scientific American
The life and work of Will Burtin are very interesting as an example of how a pioneer in a “heroic” time of Graphic Design invented his professional practice. But the value of the book is not in the biography, but on the analyses of Burtin’s projects and of his ways of working. Working for large corporations at a time in which the USA was economically rising, he enjoyed the possibility of generous budgets for the realization of projects of very diverse and complex kind: from mega promotions of corporations to scientific and technical information dissemination.
—Jorge Frascara, Design Professor Emeritus
Burtin’s body of work provides excellent models for today’s information design practice and this well- organized and beautifully designed book should be on every graphic design curriculum’s information design reading list and all design bookshelves.
—Katherine McCoy, Graphic Designer
Remington and Pontis unapologetically present Burtin’s mid-century modernist ideals of design as a progressive force, committed to scientific objectivity and rigor. At the same time, they also make it clear that design is not a science but a holistic discipline in which the designer acts as an intermediary–a mediator, visualizer, business partner, teacher, and storyteller.
—Dietmar Offenhuber, Information Design Educator
Table of Contents
Foreword by Steven Heller
Chapter 1: Introduction
A Designer Ahead of his Time
The Importance of Information Design Today
Will Burtin’s Journey to Information Design
A Need for Understanding
Chapter 2: An Overview of Will Burtin’s Life
Beginnings on the Rhine
A Graphic Designer of German Precision
Modernism in the Air
An Émigré Mind
A Fresh Career in America
Chapter 3: A Designer with an Information Priority
Understanding, the Foundation
Understanding the Information Design Process
Information Design’s Need for Scientific Thinking
Burtin’s Scientific Approach to Visual Communication
Proposed Analytical Framework: Dimensions of Information Design
Chapter 4: Purpose
Metabolism, the Cycle of Life Exhibition
Process Box 1. Case Study 1: Metabolism, the Cycle of Life Exhibition (1963)
Chapter 5: Problem
Defining and Framing
The Brain Exhibition
Process Box 2. Case Study 2: The Brain Exhibition (1960)
Chapter 6: Audience
A Human-Centered Process
Gunner’s Information File Project
Process Box 3. Case Study 3: Gunner’s Information File Project (1944)
Chapter 7: Approach
A Cooperative Way of Working
The Cell Exhibition
Process Box 4. Case Study 4: The Cell Exhibition (1958)
Chapter 8: Outcome
Integration of Content
Fortune and SCOPE Magazines
Process Box 5. Case Study 5: SCOPE Magazine (1941-1957)
Chapter 9: Practice
Conveying the Value of Information Design
Information Design Practice Today
Visual Journeys of Will Burtin’s Scientific Approach
Visual Aspects of Science Exhibition (1962)
The Communication of Knowledge Exhibition (1971)
Chapter 10: Education
Enhancing Comprehension and Communication
Rethinking Information Design Education Through a Scientific Lens
Skills and Knowledge for Information Designers
Educating through Information Design
Chapter 11: Recommendations and Information Design Imperatives
Being an Information Designer
Bringing the Past into the Present of Information Design
List of Images, Diagrams, and Tables