Transforming science for young people: Marie Neurath and Isotype books for children

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Typography and Graphic Communication


This Follow-on project enhances the value of the original research undertaken in the 'Isotype revisited' project (AHRC AH/E00895/1) by identifying approaches to science communication that will engage young people and the general public.

It aims to create new audiences for the approach to science communication taken by Marie Neurath in her books for children, produced in the 1940s and 1950s. The illustrations in these books, in series such as the 'Wonder world of nature' and 'Wonders of the modern world', were innovative in their approach to the design of complex information.

The project team includes members of the original 'Isotype revisited' group; colleagues at the Institute of Education at Reading and their students; teachers and children in primary schools in Reading; project partners Design Science, a science communication and education agency; and House of Illustration, a gallery in London.

The team will produce innovative and creative worksheets and animated video for primary school science teaching. The resources will include guidelines for teachers about how to produce worksheets using illustrations based on Marie Neurath's explanatory illustrations. Consultation with teachers and teacher educators as part of the design process will ensure that their ideas and needs are taken into account. Pilot schools will be involved in evaluating the effectiveness of the resources to ensure they are relevant and effective.

A curated and designed public exhibition will demonstrate the cultural impact of Marie Neurath's work, in particular raising awareness of her distinctive approach to illustration, using comparison, scale and 'before and after' scenarios, combined with functional use of bold colours. To engage new audiences with this work, this public-facing exhibition at House of Illustration, in summer 2019, will show examples of Marie Neurath's illustration from the children's books, as well as sketches, drawings and correspondence that show the iterative nature of the design process. Design Science will contribute ideas for the contemporary interpretation of the material to engage non-specialist audiences in science. House of Illustration will advise on design and curation of the exhibition, and provide a venue in the cultural quarter at Kings Cross, London.

Planned Impact

The non-academic beneficiaries of the 'Isotype revisited' Follow-on project include primary school teachers (including trainees) and their classes; people with interests in illustration, education, design and science communication; and design practitioners. Our enthusiastic project partners Design Science and House of Illustration will also benefit from the project. Design Science will enhance its profile through opportunity to showcase its science communication work to teachers and academics. House of Illustration will benefit from being able to host original material from the Isotype Collection at Reading. They will be recognised as the first gallery to host an exhibition focussed on Marie Neurath's approach to illustration in children's information books. Both partners will benefit from being involved in a project funded by AHRC as it reinforces the value that they can add to research and its impact, and their commitment to it.

We will capture evidence of impact through qualitative and quantitative measures. Our Impact Evaluation Report will detail feedback about the new teaching resources as a result of their use in primary schools, and comments arising from the exhibition. We will ask our project partners to tell us about any benefits (such as new contacts and projects) that have occurred as a result of their engagement with the Follow-on project.

Our project partners are keen to assist in the delivery of the impact of this Follow-on project, and this is reflected in their expertise and in-kind contribution to the project:

Design Science brings expertise in exhibition design, film and graphic design, and is committed to working collaboratively in pursuit of excellence in the contribution that design makes to science communication. Their main contribution to the project is the development of resources for primary school science and to curation and design of the exhibition.

House of Illustration will contribute expertise in curation and design of the exhibition. They have agreed to provide a venue for the exhibition and to provide publicity, technician costs, graphic design materials, framing and conservation, and an opening event.

Support for the project is also provided through the staff and pupils at the primary schools that offer placements to trainee teachers at the Institute of Education, University of Reading.

We aim to deliver impact by
- demonstrating the role that design can play in successful science communication
- reaching new audiences and delivering cultural impact through an exhibition in London of Marie Neurath's books and preparatory work that was the result of working in collaboration with scientists, teachers and children
- benefitting primary school children and teachers through innovative and creative resources for key stage 1 and key stage 2 science, including animated video adaptations of Marie Neurath's work
- reaching new audiences via a web portal on the 'Isotype revisited' web site that will include worksheets and sets of images/explanations from the books that align with national curriculum topics
- writing non-academic papers in design and in education journals (eg Eye magazine and Books for keeps) to reach new audiences and to gauge reactions

We propose to capture information about these anticipated benefits by
- spending time in primary schools to see how teachers and children use the resources, and to gather feedback about their effectiveness. We will work with our pilot primary schools from the Institute of Education at Reading, and provide questionnaires and guidance for capturing feedback from children.
- recording numbers to demonstrate project reach: for example, attendance at the exhibition and public lectures; website visits; downloads; enquiries about the project.


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Title Digital version of exhibition: Picturing Science 
Description This website, designed by Fraser Muggeridge Associates, is an online version of the exhibition held at House of Illustration in 2019. It also makes available for download the resources for primary school children that were developed as part of this project. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact We have examples of children using the resources we made. The project was shortlisted for a University of Reading Impact and Engagement Award 2020, which was accompanied by a video explaining the project. The project has raised awareness of Marie Neurath's children's books that in turn has attracted internal funding from University of Reading for a follow-up project about Picturing History (that, as with Picturing Science will comprise a physical exhibition and an online version. 
Title Set of resources (digital and paper) for primary school children based on material from Marie Neurath's science books for children from the 1940s and 1950s 
Description This work comprised creation, design and making of a series of slide shows and related worksheet for use in primary school classrooms. The resources relate to strands of the National Curriculum eg habitats, plants, earth, growth and take as a starting point illustrations and content from Marie Neurath's books. The materials were co-designed with teachers and children, and were tried out in the House of Illustration exhibition where they were well-received. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact This work has drawn attention to the relevance of Marie Neurath's work to science communication today. We are now working with a third-sector organisation to distribute the resources to parents; and to make them available for a children's activity in a University musuem. 
Description Marie Neurath was a ground-breaking graphic designer who developed an innovative and creative approach to explaining science to children in the 1950s and 1960s. Our project aimed to raise the profile of her work and to re-use her ideas in primary schools today. It was a partnership between design researchers and practitioners, school teacher educators, and gallery professionals.
The work shows innovation and creativity through the curation and design of a public exhibition at House of Illustration in the King's Cross Cultural Quarter. This showed the 'picturing techniques' used in Marie Neurath's inspirational science books, as well as material to explain how the books were made with material from the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection. We designed visually exciting educational materials for primary school science in collaboration with teachers and children in Reading. The exhibition (July to November 2019) attracted over 10,000 visitors. House of Illustration was inspired to organise workshops for children based on it. School trips to the exhibition engaged young people who made good use of the slides and worksheets provided.
Exploitation Route We are working on a digital version of the House of Illustration who are keen to continue to promote Mare Neurath's work. The resources for use in schools will continue to be distributed, and the worksheets and slide shows used in the House of Illustration exhibition will be used in the University of Reading's new Cole Museum when it opens in summer 2020.
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Evaluation has been embedded in the project: resources for schools were developed with and then tested with teachers and children; we gathered feedback from people who attended the exhibition; and the exhibition received excellent reviews in national and international press. The project benefitted from community engagement. Teachers from Reading primary schools were involved in development of resources for use in schools attending a special workshop in the University where they were introduced to material from the Isotype Collection. They worked with the project team to identify concepts and images that were relevant to ks1 and ks2 primary science teaching. Local teachers worked with us on the content and wording of worksheets to use in their schools. The resources (slide shows on an i-pad, and worksheets) were available for children and others to use. The exhibition has drawn attention to Marie Neurath's books for children. We are collaborating with Design for Print (a small company committed to high-quality, affordable reprints) on a facsimile edition of Railways under London (1948). Resources tried and tested at House of Illustration will be used in the new Cole Museum reinforcing the University's commitment to science education for young people; and its commitment to community engagement with the University's collections. To ensure legacy, we are preparing a digital version of the exhibition, in collaboration with Fraser Muggeridge Studios (which coincidentally supports our commitment to alumni engagement). Our learning from this project has affirmed the potential of collaboration and community engagement to extend the impact of collections-based research.
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Co-curation and design of exhibition with House of Illustration and Design Science 
Organisation House of Illustration
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The project involves co-design and collaboration between the University of Reading team and non-academic partners House of Illustration and Design Science/] The curation and design of the exhibition is collaborative. The University of Reading is providing the archival material for the exhibition 'Marie Neurath; Picturing Science at House of Illustration 19 July to 3 November 2019. The research team is providing advice about content and design.
Collaborator Contribution House of Illustration is providing a venue, publicity conservation and mounting of materials, opening event, design support
Impact Marie Neurath: Picturing Science. An exhibition at House of Illustration co-curated and designed by Sue Walker, Emma Minns, Katie Nairne, Anne Odling-Smee and Eric Kindel
Start Year 2018
Description Children's Books History Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk to a meeting of the Children's Books History Society with a focus on information books: 'Creativity and collaboration: Marie Neurath's information books for children', October 2021
The talk helped to raise the profile of Marie Neurath's innovative work in writing and designing books for children.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Marie Neurath and Adprint: making books for young people 1948-1970; talk at Women in Publishing symposium, Reading 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This illustrated talk was part of a 2-day symposium that aimed to raise the profile of women working in publishing in the UK and beyond. Speakers and audience members from the USA and Europe ensured international perspectives as well as those from people involved in different stages of the publishing process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Presentation at workshop with British Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This talk given by Sue Walker, 'A Publishing Initiative: Marie Neurath Picturing History' was part of a workshop, Exploring Collections, Archaeology and Empire - Creating Narratives for Younger Audiences, past present, future', a workshop organised by Amara Thornton in collaboration with the British Museum in December 2020.

The talk showcased a children's book series 'They Lived Like' this which used artefacts and expertise from museums, including the British Museum as a basis for illustration.

The talk was then produced as a blog post for the website of the Centre for Book Cultures and Publishing at the University of Reading which further extended its reach and enabled showing of the illustrations used in the presentation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Talk: 'Creativity, collaboration and colour: Marie Neurath's book design for children' at the Women in Print study day, convened to align with the Marie Neurath exhibition at House of Illustration 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This talk, illustrated with slides from the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection held an the University of Reading showed Neurath's work with her team of illustrators and authors on the design of science books for young people. It drew attention to the picturing techniques she used to explain science and history to young people. The talk was attended by people with an interest in children's book illustration as well as people interested in Isotype and its legacy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019