Marie Neurath

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Marie Neurath
Marie Reidemeister

(1898-05-27)27 May 1898
Died10 October 1986(1986-10-10) (aged 88)
Occupation(s)Designer, "Transformer"

Marie Neurath, born Marie Reidemeister (27 May 1898 – 10 October 1986), was a German designer, social scientist and author. Neurath was a member of the team that developed a simplified pictographic language, the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics (Wiener Methode der Bildstatistik), which she later renamed Isotype. She was also a prolific writer and designer of educational books for younger readers.


Marie Reidemeister was born in Braunschweig, Germany on 27 May 1898.[1] Her brother was mathematician Kurt Reidemeister. Reidemeister studied mathematics and physics from 1917 to 1924 in Göttingen, Germany, while also taking courses at the "Kunstschule" (art school) in 1919.[1] Just before graduating she met Otto Neurath and soon moved to Vienna. In 1925 she began work at the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum in Wien (Social and Economic Museum of Vienna). The museum was founded to communicate the city's social reform programme to the public. This was the start of her long activity as the main "transformer" (in English, one would now say designer) working with Otto Neurath in the teams that made graphic displays of social information, an early form of information design.[1][2]

The other essential member of the Neurath group, the German artist Gerd Arntz, joined in 1928. Marie Reidemeister worked at this museum in Vienna until the brief civil war in Austria in 1934, moving then with Neurath (a prominent Social Democrat) and Arntz (who had allegiances to radical-left groups) to The Hague. A new name was needed for the Vienna Method now that its original context was left behind: Marie Neurath developed the acronym Isotype (International System of Typographic Picture Education) in 1935 on the analogy of Charles Kay Ogden's "Basic English".[3] It was intended as a method of pictorial statistics that could clarify scientific relationships for non specialists. Large data volumes were translated in a comprehensible and memorable visual form. The data was illustrated and interconnections were to be presented, the result was a promoted democratisation of knowledge. Neurath collected the information, Arntz developed the pictograms and graphics and Reidemeister converted the information and data into a visual understandable presentation. She linked technical experts and graphic designers as well as the target audience. Otto Neurath called this position the "trustee of the public".[4]

In 1940, as the German army invaded the Netherlands, Reidemeister escaped with Neurath to England, while Arntz stayed behind in The Hague. In 1941, after release from internment (as "enemy aliens"), Marie and Otto Neurath were married,[1] and resumed their work in Oxford, founding the Isotype Institute. The Isotype Institute produced more than 80 illustrated children’s books, half are dedicated to science education.[5] After Otto Neurath’s death in 1945, Marie Neurath carried on the work with a small number of English assistants, moving to London in 1948.

After her retirement in 1971, she gave the working material of the Isotype Institute to the University of Reading, where it is housed in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication as the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection.[6] Thereafter she devoted much energy to establishing a record of Otto Neurath’s life and work, and editing and translating his writings. She died in London in 1986.


  1. ^ a b c d "Meet Marie Neurath, the Woman Who Transformed Isotype Into an International Endeavor". Eye on Design. 2019-09-17. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
  2. ^ Heller, Steven (2014-04-24). "The Utopian Origins of Restroom Symbols". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
  3. ^ Jeffries, Stuart (2019-08-27). "Before emojis: the utopian graphic language of Marie and Otto Neurath". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
  4. ^ Liz McQuiston: "Women in Design – A Contemporary View, London 1988, p. 76
  5. ^ "House of Illustration opens an exhibition of graphic design that transformed children's learning". Retrieved 2019-09-20.
  6. ^ McLaughlin, Aimée (2019-07-16). "How Marie Neurath's pioneering picture books shaped science education". Creative Review. Retrieved 2019-09-20.

Further reading[edit]

  • Neurath, Marie; Kinross, Robin (2008). The transformer: principles of making Isotype charts. London, UK: Hyphen Press. ISBN 978-0-907259-40-4 – via Google Books.
  • Otto Neurath (ed. Marie Neurath and Robert S. Cohen), Empiricism and Sociology, Dordrecht: Reidel, 1973.
  • Michael Twyman, Graphic Communication Through Isotype, Reading 1975.
  • Liz McQuiston, Women in Design – A Contemporary View, London 1988.
  • Gerda Breuer and Julia Meer (ed), Women in Graphic Design, p.  520/521, Jovis, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-86859-153-8.

External links[edit]