Will Burtin for Upjohn

The Cell was commissioned by the Upjohn Company, and the project was completed in 1958. The Upjohn Company was a firm that created pharmaceuticals and released a publication called Scope. The magazine was important because it helped doctors comprehend complex medical and scientific concepts. The Cell was an important project for Will Burtin because unlike previous jobs, this one he completed in 4D. It was an opportunity for Burtin to rethink the media he was using and the ways that he could convey information so that it would be understandable to an audience. According to Burtin, the assignment was “to recommend a visual method of explaining new knowledge about organic structure to the professional and general public… One of the first conclusions reached was that the entire structure should be built in a size large enough to enable the viewer to walk inside it, so that he would get a most intimate and dramatic close-up view of all the relationships between various parts of the cell and the whole.” This project represents an exemplary design for the time period when most designers strictly worked in 2D. This project also is an exemplary design for the beginnings of information design, as Burtin was discovering a better way to present complex, scientific information to a group of people.

The Cell was created in order to visualize processes within the cell that scientists were just starting to comprehend. Because the exhibit was 24 feet wide, 12 feet high, viewers could go inside of it and better understand the relationships between the organelles of the cell. The exhibit used unconventional media, such as, lights and plastic to create a more interactive experience.

I really enjoy this project because I think it was a more efficient way of explaining something as complicated as the processes that make up a functioning cell. Rather than looking at a flat, 2D diagram of a cell, Burtin created something that his audience could interact with and see from all different angles. Moreover, his execution of this project exemplifies the idea that information design is about condensing facts and knowledge into understandable formats.


Will Burtin The Cell (1958)