Can graphic design save your life? That’s the question posed by the curators of the exhibition of the same name at London’s Wellcome Collection. The exhibition brings together over 200 objects from public and private collections to examine the subtle and subliminal nature of design in shaping our health. Whether it’s environmental cues or explicit instructions, it’s clear that good design has the power to fundamentally impact our wellbeing.
The exhibition begins with posters and advertising promoting the health giving benefits of cigarettes. The mode and means of communication is only as effective as the message and belief behind it, and once it was deemed that smoking was healthy. We then see the sleek and sexy Silk Cut ad campaigns from the 1980s, followed by children’s cartoons promoting an anti smoking message, and the transition to plain packaging.
Symbols we’ve come to recognise and that are ubiquitous in our landscape, such as the green cross of pharmacy’s or the Red Cross depicting impartiality and safety. It’s explained how the font and typography used in hospitals came to be selected – clear, neutral and plain – and the importance of good signage.
Inspiration is taken from good design elsewhere. Miffy creator Dick Bruna’s inimitable style is used for a book about haemophilia, whilst UNICEF’s Ebola symptom posters of 2014 are evocative of Ladybird. The 1980s campaign AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance is a stark reminder of the importance of clear messaging, whilst the value of storytelling is apparent through Rejane Dal Bello‘s identity for a children’s hospital in Arequipa, that uses bright colours and happy characters to help ease the worries of young patients.
‘Graphic Design in and of itself isn’t that interesting,’ says Rebecca Wright, Programme Director of Graphic Communication Design, ‘what is interesting is what it does in relation to the subject that it’s serving. It is a service industry for the public and it comes to life in that context.’
Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? The answer from this exhibition is a resounding yes.