Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? was published earlier this year to coincide with GraphicDesign&’s exhibition of the same name that is currently on show at the Wellcome Collection. It examines the varied and vital relationship between graphic design and health, focussing on work that demonstrates how communication strategies and visual languages are employed to persuade, inform and ultimately protect. The book asks its contributors to respond to the title question and demonstrates how graphic design impacts what we notice, what we understand and the actions we take. “In short, we hope that readers of the book will think the answer to the question is: yes!”
We spoke to GraphicDesign& and asked them to consider the role of graphic design specifically in the world of mental health. “When we founded GraphicDesign&, we were motivated by a desire to demonstrate the value that graphic design brings and the role that it plays in the wider world,” co-founders Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright, and GD& associate Sarah Schrauwen told us. “As advocates for our subject, we believe that designers and creatives have much to contribute to the area of mental health, where imagination and ingenuity can transform the communication, diagnosis, awareness and support.” To demonstrate this conviction, we asked the trio to outline three projects that successfully support and impact mental wellbeing in diverse ways.
Ollie Alpin – Mind Journal
Mind Journal was created by graphic designer Ollie Alpin, inspired by his personal experience of anxiety, panic attacks and mental breakdown. Aimed at men, who are less likely to feel comfortable talking about their problems, he designed a discrete and stylish hard-bound journal that provides a structured framework for daily entries, encouraging writing as a way to navigate the challenges of life. Ollie sought input from academics, psychologists and user-testers, creating prototypes before finalising his product, which he funded through crowd-source fundraiser Kickstarter.
MullenLowe – We Listen Campaign for Samaritans
The award-winning We Listen campaign designed by MullenLowe for Samaritans, a UK charity that supports people suffering from anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, in partnership with Network Rail. It focused on the Samaritans as ‘expert listeners’ and was displayed prominently on the UK rail network, where many suicides take place. The campaign used striking photographic portraits by Nadav Kander, shot from behind to convey both anonymity and familiarity. The coloured copy reveals hidden messages behind the claims to be fine, encouraging people to get in touch before they’re unable to cope.
Studio Myerscough – The Royal London Children’s Hospital
Studio Myerscough is well-known for having worked in a number of hospitals in the UK, working with architects and artists to transform environments, often in children’s wards. Led by Morag Myerscough, the team’s distinctive murals incorporating oversized lettering, brightly coloured abstract patterns and eye-popping motifs, cover walls, floors, ceilings and furniture for life-affirming effects. For Dazzle, Morag collaborated with British poet Lemn Sissay on a series of children’s workshops, the outcomes of which were transformed into exuberant wallpaper and stencilled seating for five dining rooms at the Royal London Children’s Hospital.
Whether through sensitive campaigns like We Listen, through targeted design tools such as Mind Journal or through creating experiences and environments that enhance wellbeing and ease anxiety in times of crisis like Studio Mysercough do, GraphicDesign& believe that “graphic design is uniquely equipped to communicate complex information and issues in memorable and meaningful ways". However, they strongly insisted that it is the collaboration between clients, patients, health professionals and end-users that is at the heart of these projects, telling us that “it takes all of us to work together and achieve real impact and change.”
1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem every year, and in England, 1 in every 6 people report a common mental health problem – like anxiety and depression – each week. But only 1 in 4 people in the UK reporting mental health difficulties receive ongoing treatment. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in today’s coverage, if you would like to find out more or to donate, please contact Mind or CALM.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.