London 2017 – Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? Probably, but it could send you six feet under you as well! Free museum and library Wellcome Collection explores the complex relationship between graphic design and health with an exhibition featuring over 200 works and projects: from Lucky Strike iconic vintage packaging to anti-AIDS safe sex awareness campaigns and big Pharma corporate image evolution.
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“Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? considers the role of graphic design in constructing and communicating healthcare messages around the world and shows how it continues to be used to persuade, inform and empower.” Explain graphic designer Lucienne Roberts and design educator Rebecca Wright, curators of the exhibtion and co-founders of publishing house GraphicDesign&.
The exhibition opens with flags showing the emblems of the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and the Red Crystal. Rarely displayed together, they are some of the world’s most recognisable, powerful and highly protected symbols, used to depict neutrality and provide safety in conflict zones.
On show persuasive strategies employed in shaping public perceptions around smoking. Luxuriant advertising campaigns are displayed alongside objects showing the transition to plain packaging and anti-smoking imagery. Discover the imaginative educational approaches taken across the globe to instruct us about our bodies, from 16th century anatomical pop-up books to the Tiny Bop learning app, as well as Planned Parenthood comic books advocating safe sex.
The role of design in informing and orienting people in hospitals is explored through the use of signage and fonts, as well as resources that help to identify and communicate different types of pain. Colourful schemes for children’s wards, designed by Studio Rubio Arauna, Studio Rejane Dal Bello and Studio Myerscough, in Barcelona, Peru and London respectively, further demonstrate how graphics can be used to transform the hospital experience and improve patient wellbeing in settings traditionally considered as intimidating or unpleasant.
Items from the archive of Burroughs Wellcome & Co., one of the first companies to market directly to doctors and to rigorously enforce trademarks and brand, provide some of the earliest examples of corporate identity in the pharmaceutical industry. Further studies include the iconic Bayer identity and the influence of the pioneering and modernist design studio at Geigy. The exhibition also considers how graphic designers deliver clear healthcare instructions to consumers through carefully designed colour coding systems, written instructions and pill packaging.
The front-line response in battling epidemics continues to be crucial in global health. From Italian renaissance plague notices to a hand painted mural depicting Ebola symptoms during the 2014 outbreak in West Africa, graphics provide an immediate and important way to convey information as medical crises unfold. Further examples include Abram Games’ anti malaria poster, the AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance Campaign from the 1980s, and a mosquito-killing billboard used in Brazil to raise awareness of Zika.
The final part of the exhibition considers how graphic design can empower people and provoke an individual response. Exploring the principles of Ken Garland’s First Things First manifesto, which called for graphic designers to use their skills for good, this section features several impactful campaigns. This includes the Scottish Government’s 2009 Kill Jill poster that significantly increased organ donation rates and the Samaritan’s award-winning Network Rail We Listen advertisements.
All photos by Andrew Meredith for Universal design Studio; courtesy of Wellcome Collection.