Will Burtin(1908, 1972), was born in Cologne. Will Burtin was a graphic designer for Fortune magazine and the Upjohn Company, specializing in “scientific visualization.” He pioneered important contributions to international typography and visual design, and is best known as the world leader in using design to interpret science. Will Burtin was a proponent of ‘clean’, uncluttered sans-serif typography; and for his large-scale three-dimensional models, which carried the craft and the art of display to new heights.
Burtin enroled at Handwerkskammer Köln to study typography in 1922, and at the same time started his apprenticeship in typesetting studio of Dr. Philippe Knöll, in Cologne. After graduation in 1926 he began to study graphic and industrial design at the Kölner Werkschulen with Richard Riemerschmied and Jacob Erbar. In 1927, he set up a design studio in Cologne, creating booklets, posters, type books, exhibitions, displays, advertising and movies in German and French. His studio became so successful that Josef Goebbels asked him to become design director at the German Propaganda Ministry. In 1938, when Hitler repeated the invitation, Burtin and his wife Hilde Munk Burtin made their hasty escape to United States, with the help of his wife’s relative Max Munk, aeronautics pioneer and inventor of the wind tunnel.Immediately after after arriving in New York, Within a short period after arriving in New York, he Designed FlexOprop logo, trademark of Munk Aeronautical Laboratory. Shortly afterward he landed contract to design Federal Works Agency Exhibition for U.S. Pavilion at New York World’s Fair. In 1939, he began to teach communication design at Pratt Institute, New York.
Soon after, had designed Upjohn’s entire product line of medicine bottles, ointment tubes and packaging – and even the company letterhead. He was drafted into the US Army in 1943,where he designed training manuals for aerial gunners. Fortune magazine asked the army to release him “in the national interest”, and he became Fortune’s art editor. In 1947, Burtin commissioned Lester Beall to create the Modernist “British Railways” cover for the April issue of Fortune magazine, which represents a fine example of the graphic “layering” technique. He developed a design philosphy called Integration, in which the designer conveyed information with visual communication that is based on four principal realities.
Will Burtin – The four realities:
the reality of man as measure and measurer
the reality of light, color, texture
the reality of space, motion, time
the reality of science
Using this approach to design problems was essentially the birth of what later became known as multimedia. By integrating all four realities into a design solution, Burtin could solve seemingly insoluble puzzles.
Burtin was truly dedicated to his profession. It is said of him that Will Burtin was so meticulous that at Fortune a “Burtin” was the term used to describe a particle smaller than a point. He had left no stone unturned to produce an elegant and superb design. He loved graphic design and he was not doing it for money, in fact he never made a fortune. He had a curious, inquiring mind, and was enchanted by the scientific discoveries and loved to study and work with new materials. According to architect Serge Chermayeff Burtin was interesred in the
“new art of visualization, of giving visual form in two and three dimensions to a message, which may be apprehended simultaneously through the senses and the intellect and is the product of a new kind of artist functionary evolved by our complex society. Among the small band of pioneers who have developed this new language by bringing patient research and brilliant inventiveness is Will Burtin.”
In 1957, Burtin convinced Upjohn’s president Jack Gauntlett and Dr. Garrard Macleod, director of special projects, to finance the construction of a large-scale scientific model of a human red blood cell 24 feet across and 12 feet high, and it was here, that according to Remington and Fripp,
“that the modern concept of scientific visualization was born”.In 1957, Burtin convinced Upjohn’s president Jack Gauntlett and Dr. Garrard Macleod, director of special projects, to finance the construction of a large-scale scientific model of a human red blood cell 24 feet across and 12 feet high, and it was here, that according to Remington and Fripp,
“that the modern concept of scientific visualization was born”.
In this, he visualized the relationship between spatial forms and their functions, and with his visionary insights simplified the scientific communications.
His walk-thru model – built of plastic tubing, wires and colored lights – one million times larger than life, was unveiled in September 1958 at the American Medical Association’s meeting in San Francisco. It was a sensation, and would eventually pave the way for Burtin to create four more sophisticated scientific models of the brain, the metabolism and blood vessels for Upjohn and an atomic energy model for Union Carbide. In short, Burtin was an innovator in the field of information design who can rightly be described as visionary.