Will Burtin Portfolio

Much like The Cell, The Brain  was commissioned by the Upjohn Company. The project was completed in 1960. The Upjohn Company was a company that created pharmaceuticals and published a magazine called Scope. The magazine was important because it helped doctors comprehend complex medical and scientific concepts. Similar to The Cell, The Brain was an important project for Will Burtin because unlike previous jobs, this one he completed in 4D. Both projects were a chance give to Burtin for him to reassess the media he was using and the methods that he could use in order to convey information so that it would be understandable to an audience. With all of his Upjohn exhibits, Burtin began with extensive research. For The Brain, Burtin discussed with and interviewed scientists, theorists, structural engineers, lighting specialists, and model makers in order to more efficiently tackle the project. According to Remington in his novel Nine Pioneers in American Graphic Design, “At an early stage of development [of The Brain] it became obvious that to be understandable, the form of the exhibit should not be based on the anatomy of the organ but rather on the thinking process itself.” Burtin’s concept of connecting image projection and moving light and color was the beginning of multimedia design.  

In this exhibit, unconventional media was utilized. For instance, there were numerous light bulbs, aluminum discs, and tubes in The Brain. The exhibit made a response to the sound of a singer. To explain synaptic pathways, Burtin ran lights throughout the tubes. The responses were different depending on the person singing and the audience applause. While before understanding the brain was a complex and confusing topic before, with his exhibit, Burtin has made it clear and easily understood to the general public. Much like The Cell, Burtin refused to settle for a 2D execution of this project, as he knew this would not make comprehension of the functions of the brain more understandable. In modern day, we call Burtin’s exhibits experience design or transmedia.

I really enjoyed this piece as well because Burtin’s execution of this project was very deliberate. He began with extensive research in order to gain a deeper understanding of the brain itself, but he also researched ways in which others had made 3D models before.


Will Burtin
The Brain