The Daily Heller: Will Burtin’s Seeing is Understanding Design

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Charles and Ray Eames, Milton Glaser and William Golden are readily recognized for their major contributions to 20th-century modern design. Their peer, Will Burtin, is not as familiar a name—but his work as a designer, especially in the realm of information visualization, is no less important. His charts, graphs and other graphics continue to exert influence on today’s two- and three-dimensional designers, but often it is his spirit rather than the work that does the inspiring.

The Brain
The Cell

In the new book Communicating Knowledge Visually: Will Burtin’s Scientific Approach to Information Design (Rochester Institute of Technology Press, November), authors R. Roger Remington and Sheila Pontis illuminate how Burtin’s life, legacy and groundbreaking approach to using graphics and 3D is a cornerstone of the data-viz age.

The authors principally delve into nine of Burtin’s most important projects, showing how his distinctive strategies elegantly “demystified everything through interactive displays, from the human cell to military equipment to the workings of the brain.”

Whether he was creating manuals for soldiers or life-size multimedia models for medical professionals, Burtin’s approach utilized many of the techniques of the scientist. He began with close observation, thoughtful questions and a willingness to immerse himself in the bodies of knowledge relevant to any given project. “Will Burtin felt that the designer should see his or her craft as the link between the realm of ideas and the reality of people,” write the authors. With this as his mission, Burtin created designs that made complex concepts accessible to a broad audience without sacrificing nuance or depth. In this text, Remington and Pontis break down the innovative philosophy and novel approach that brought Burtin’s designs to life and secured his place as one of the great designers of the 20th century.

For those who only recognize the name, have never seen his work, or have no clue of Burtin’s integral role in contemporary strategic design, this book is for you.