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Aaron Ritschard

Corporate Structures Revealed — Diagrammatic Perspectives into the History of Novartis

Multinational corporations are powerful actors in our globalized society: they produce the goods we consume, provide us with jobs and influence politics. One of those multinational corporations is Novartis, which is headquartered in Basel.

Despite their economical and political relevance for this region, my impression is that a lot of people know very little about Novartis and neither did I before this thesis. What about you? Did you know that Syngenta, the big agricultural company, which is headquartered in Basel as well, is actually a spin-off from Novartis? Or did you know that 33% of Hoffmann-La Roche’s voting shares are owned by Novartis? Can you name one single product which is produced by Novartis or locate a Novartis company site in some other country?

This thesis explores the potential of diagrams in providing a historical perspective on corporations. As the perspective is historical, an important issue is the graphical representation of time. Time has very different qualities like states of being, developments and events and for each of those qualities other diagrammatic structures are adequate to visualize them. We might think of a state of being as a constellation, for example an organizational structure at one specific moment, which can be depicted as an organigram. A development is something different, the diagrammatic structure is generally represented in a linear way. We could think of an area chart, showing the development of sales. An event implies movement, something happens, changes in one specific moment take place. The merger of two companies into one is an event and the launch of a new product is an event as well. When we imagine development over time as being represented as a hotizontal line, an event would be a the opposite and could be visualized on a vertical axis.

The creation of diagrams is a challenging issue. The material which is used – the data – is very delicate. In diagrams, the data is arranged in the two-dimensional space in a systematic way. Every datapoint has to be arranged very precisely, otherwise the original information is distorted. The more layers of information are displayed on a two-dimesional plane, the more graphic elements and techniques have to be combined to create a situation, where the information can be perceived as a whole, but also in detail. Colour to create contrast between different categories, grids to make numerical values readable, horizontal and vertical arrangement to show hierarchies and three-dimensional illusions are some of those tools.

On the theoretical side, this thesis looks into the theory of diagrammatics, where questions about the specific qualities of diagrams are raised, but also diagrammatic structures in human perception and thinking are identified. What is the very foundation of cognition, that allows us to read in abstract shapes? How can we imagine inspatial things like time or hierarchies as spatial constellations? Can we actually make sense out of invisible, abstract or immaterial things, without the ability to think in spatial relations?

Aaron Ritschard was born in Basel. After four years of studying fine arts in Hamburg and graduating with a BA, he moved back to Basel and worked as an artist focussing on abstract, surrealistic drawing. After four years of working independently, he decided to expand his visual skills in a new field, experimenting with the visualization of information during his MA studies at the Basel School of Design.

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