I’ve just read Robert Fripp and Roger Remington’s illustrated biography of designer Will Burtin, Design and Science: The Life and Work of Will Burtin. An informal student of the Bauhaus school, Burtin was a well known designer in Germany, before he and his Jewish wife fled the country before World War II. Preceding his escape, he was requested by both Joseph Goebbels and Hitler to become the design director of the Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda.
In the forties, Burtin was drafted in to the U.S. army and was tasked with creating illustrated how-to guides for aerial gunners, many of whom could not read. Still during the war years, he became the Art Director for Fortune magazine. Interestingly, the magazine pleaded that he should be discharged from the military — that his talents would better serve the nation's interest in this role. In his time at Fortune, Fripp and Remmington say that Burtin founded many of the practices and principles of corporate identity in graphic design. In particular they consider Burtin's ongoing work for the Kalamazoo-based Upjohn Company, including the publication Scope. In his writings and an exhibition Burtin explained his philosophy as a designer:
"To convey the meaning, to facilitate understanding of reality and thereby help further progress, is a wonderful and challenging task for design. The writer, scientist, painter, philosopher, and the designer of visual communication, in commerce, are all partners in the task of inventing the dramatic and electrifying to a more comprehensive grasp of our time."
Burtin's most grand and enduring work came after his time at Fortune, as he continued to use "art and design as a means of understanding science." Throughout his career Burtin created and oversaw a variety of information graphics, but in the '50s he also began to work with large-scale, multi-media installations that visualized scientific understanding of complex systems. The first of these was an Upjohn-sponsored walk-in exhibition of a human cell.