Wednesday 12 December 2012


Nowadays we take this kind of graphic for granted, as a staple of the more highbrow kind of serious news outlet:

Number of cars in USA vs. rest of world, 1914-28
 The style has a name. It is ISOTYPE, a movement that most people probably don't even know was a movement, let alone its connection with social democratic ideologies in 1930's Germany. If you've ever been told in a statistics class that icons should illustrate quantities by varying in number, not size, you've learned one of the main principles of ISOTYPE design.

The influence, indirectly, on my own 52 Pages approach can't be underestimated.

Lifespan of animals
Lifespan of monsters (under attack from adventurers)
Maybe it's a little incongruous to illustrate rules for adventures of swords and magic using a Modernist graphic language developed in the 1930's. And maybe not - considering it's not the real ancient world or Middle Ages our games are simulating, but fictional products of 20th century fantastic writers. ISOTYPE is industrialization, but also does surprisingly well at accompanying the standardization of pulp literature into rules and monster statistics.

More stuff:

Gerd Arntz collection of ISOTYPE icons.
Links to essays on ISOTYPE.


  1. Co-incidentally I was reading about the ISOTYPE movement just the other week, and thinking about the ways that their ideas might be put to use to engage the public with the social and political aspects of contenporary science. I didn't go very far with those thoughts, as I've got very little flair for visuals, but it might be something to think about again.

    As for fantasy gaming - I could imagine a sourcebook for a 'retro-future' setting (where the future imagined in the 1920s has come to be) would not only look stunning if designed according to ISOTYPE principles, but the design would actually do a tremendous amount of *work* too.

  2. This reminds me of a blog post I had read on Brain Pickings which talked about the book Vintage Visual Language. Alas, I never bought it. Nor did I buy the book by the authors of Symbols. There is not enough time for everything!

  3. Yes, the aesthetic is a little too modern at times, but the grain and corn icons really influenced what I have in my head and am trying to achieve for trade and map icons.

    Another big influence on me is the Olympic event pictograms, which I see now were influenced by ISOTYPE.

  4. Being a designer trained in the Swiss International style, I appreciate the posts on icons. I consider the common columns of dense text to be the bane of "instructive" game books. Even a barbarian with zero language skills could understand your dragon battle.