Weekend Heller: Graphic Design is Healthy

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The first major exhibition exploring the relationship between graphic design and health opened at Wellcome Collection on Sept. 7. Comprising some 200 objects including cautionary posters, flashing pharmacy signs and digital teaching aids, “Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?” addresses how design communicates messages around the world at a time when healthcare is more critical than ever.

“This exhibition will highlight the widespread and often subliminal nature of graphic design in shaping our environment, our health and our sense of self,” note organizers Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright (founders of publishing house GraphicDesign&), with Shamita Sharmacharja from Wellcome Collection.

The exhibition considers the strategies employed in shaping public perceptions around smoking, among other hazards. It will also reveal the imaginative educational approaches taken to instruct us about our bodies, from 16th-century anatomical pop-up books to 21st-century apps, through to comic books advocating safe sex.

The role that design plays in informing and orientating people in medicalized spaces will also be explored. These include the use of brightly colored design schemes in children’s wards to transform the hospital experience and improve patient well-being in settings traditionally considered to be intimidating and unpleasant.

The exhibition will cover corporate identity in the pharmaceutical industry, beginning with items from the archive of Burroughs Wellcome & Co, which was the first to employ strategies such as direct marketing to doctors and rigorous enforcement of trademarks and brand. Also included are the Bayer identity and the influence of the pioneering and modernist design studio at Geigy.

The accompanying book edited by Sarah Schrauwen, Roberts and Wright examines the varied and vital relationship between graphic design and health, focusing on work that demonstrates how communication strategies and visual languages are employed to persuade, inform, prevent and ultimately protect. Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? is published to coincide with the opening of the exhibition.

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