To celebrate the launch of the Marie Neurath: Picturing Science online exhibition, we're reflecting on some of many lessons learnt from the extraordinary educator and designer.
Lesson 1: everyday things can be a window into a world of science
Marie Neurath and her team used familiar domestic objects to engage children with scientific principles. In the series Machines which seem to think, published in 1954, Neurath and her team show the inner workings of two types of kettle using cross sectioning techniques.
Lesson 2: collaboration can produce incredible results
From the 1940s to the ‘70s, Marie led a team of researchers, artists and writers in the production of over 80 illustrated children’s books. Everyone on her team made a contribution, and each double-page spread went through several iterations to determine the placement of words and images.
Lesson 3: small details make a big difference
Neurath employed the technique of magnification to demystify natural wonders that can’t be seen with the naked eye. In Too small to see, published in 1956, Neurath uses an intriguing view of a fly to show us the tiny hairs on its legs that help it walk on the ceiling.
Lesson 4: don’t let stereotypical gender roles get in the way
Neurath didn’t let stereotypical gender roles get in the way of what she wanted to achieve. She led in the fields of science, graphic design and publishing, industries that were male-dominated in her time – and still are today.
Lesson 5: it’s important to take children seriously
Neurath’s books didn’t shy away from tricky subjects. From engineering to aeronautics, Neurath’s team used the latest scientific research to deliver accurate facts to young learners. There was no ‘dumbing down’ at Isotype.
Lesson 6: words divide, pictures unite
Isotype (International System of Typographic Picture Education) was a pictographic language designed by Otto and Marie Neurath to educate using visual icons. This visual language was underpinned by utopian ambitions to deliver key messages to all in a universally accessible way.
Lesson 7: strange things happen in nature
Starfish arms grow back, fiddler crabs play a tuneful jig to attract a mate and water lilies can grow big enough for a child to sit on. These are just some of the fascinating biological facts explored in Explaining the natural world where Neurath introduces children to deserts, jungles, and life under the sea as well as animals, birds and insects.
Visit Marie Neurath: Picturing Science online now.
Marie Neurath: Picturing Science was produced in partnership with the University of Reading and Design Science, supported by the Arts & Humanities Research Council as part of 'Transforming science for young people: Marie Neurath and Isotype books for children'. It was also part of London Design Festival 2019 and Insiders/Outsiders.