Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? explores “widespread and subliminal” impact of design on health
- Jenny Brewer
- 5 September 2017
Wellcome Collection has opened a major new exhibition exploring the relationship between graphic design and health. The show was the idea of GraphicDesign& and is curated by founders graphic designer Lucienne Roberts and educator Rebecca Wright, programme director of the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins, who together founded publisher Graphic Design&. It features 200 objects spanning packaging, posters, signage, brand identities, flags, and more, highlighting “the widespread and often subliminal nature of graphic design in shaping our environment, our health and our sense of self”. The book that accompanies the show is published by GraphicDesign& and unusually includes contributor answers to the question posed by the title. Lucienne’s studio, LucienneRoberts+ worked on the 2F design of the exhibition with 3D by Universal Design Studio
One aspect the show aims to consider is the “persuasive” strategies used in manipulating public perception around smoking. 80s ad campaigns by Silk Cut are shown alongside objects showing the transition to plain packaging, and anti-smoking imagery from around the world.
Another realm of imagery that’s explored is the range of creative approaches to educating people about the human body, with the exhibition including 16th Century anatomical pop-up books, the Tiny Bop learning app, and Planned Parenthood comic books advocating safe sex.
Other parts of the show explore the use of graphic design in hospitals, looking at fonts, posters, and signage, and colourful schemes for children’s wards that show how design can improve patient wellbeing. At the opening of the show are flags showing the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal emblems, rarely exhibited together, stated as “some of the world’s most recognisable, powerful and highly protected symbols”.
The comprehensive showcase also tackles the use of graphics in the front-line response to epidemics, from Italian Renaissance plague notices to a hand-painted mural depicting Ebola symptoms in 2014; Abram Games’ anti-malaria poster and the 1980s campaign AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance.
A long list of designers featured include Margaret Calvert, Dick Bruna, Ken Garland, Alan Kitching, Pentagram, Studio Dumbar and PearsonLloyd.
Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? opens 7 September 2017 – 14 January 2018 at Wellcome Collection, London.
About the Author
After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny became online editor in June 2021, overseeing the website’s daily editorial output.
Jenny is currently on maternity leave.