Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?

This week Newenglish visited the Wellcome collection to see their ‘Can Graphic Design Change Your Life’ exhibition. The exhibition explores the relationship between graphic design and health through six different sections: Persuasion, Education, Hospitalisation, Medication, Contagion & Provocation, through a collection of hard hitting posters, packaging, signage, video and publications.

The examples of graphic design in each section shed light on how graphic design has a very real impact on all health related ares from preventing epidemics such as the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa (with pictorial motifs and posters for communities with low literacy) and AIDs education campaigns in the west, to how interior graphics and wayfinding in hospitals can help patients genuinely feel better.

We loved seeing such a bold celebration of graphic design’s often understated daily triumphs. Thanks to the confident curation of the show we were hit by this as soon as we walked in, with the beginning section both shaming then applauding graphic design’s long and complicated relationship with the tobacco industry—first encouraging the habit through slick packing and advertising, to the present day where design is used to encourage smokers to quit. Addressing what is often a taboo subject in design history.

We also felt uplifted by reminders of how graphic design can help an ambulance get through rush hour (those fluorescent vehicle wraps are near impossible to miss), and help patients navigate the hospital and feel safe when they arrive. We particularly loved the graphics at the Katta Civic Polyclinic, Shiraishi, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan (perhaps the nicest place to get sick for any graphic enthusiast).

Looking forward we will definitely take on board some of the gorgeous examples of typography seen across the entirety of the show, as well as the clean, instructive yet personable interiors of the various Japanese hospital and clinic interiors exhibited. Most importantly, we came away with a refreshed sense of pride in our discipline; as the unsung heroes of keeping us all well.

The type of good old moral graphic design seen at the Wellcome collection reminded us of the work we love doing so much with libraries. More Libraries in the works now!

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