Can graphic design save your life?

Can graphic design save your life?


Well, can it? A graphic designer might say, ‘I make a living.’ In terms of persuasive, informative, instructive and empowering graphics, this exhibition shows the relationship between healthcare and how the role of graphic design communicates the various messages it wishes to convey.

Right from the outset of this spacious exhibition, it has to be said that its own graphic panels, printed, as they are, in gloss ink, are difficult to read at the best of times, and illegible at others, depending on the lighting. The first graphics one sees are the three red-on-white emblems of the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and an additional neutral protection symbol which had been under discussion for a number of years at the UN, called the Red Crystal (previously referred to as the Red Lozenge or Red Diamond). The show starts with Raymond Loewy’s design for Lucky Strike cigarettes; a classic and iconic image in its own right.

Having designed the Coca-Cola bottle and the Shell Oil logo, he transformed the pack into a symbol of the American soldier’s cigarette of choice, and not just because they were enfolded into the army rations. In 1996, Alan Kitchen,a British typographic designer, was invited to take part in the launch of Gitanes Blondes, and came up with new packaging, which aligned the brand with culture and the arts. Then we are shown the Silk Cut campaign devised by Paul Arden for Saatchis, but no mention of the groundbreaking Benson and Hedges series of surreal ads from CDP, which surely was the precursor to the ‘purple haze’? So, from persuasion, we move to dissuasion, with an anti-smoking cartoon shown alongside packets of fags portraying skulls and cancerous growths, when the tide finally turned, through government legislation, against smoking, it was still defended by the powerful tobacco industry, which brings in billions in taxes.

Education is a strong suit played in this exhibition, from 16th century dissection guides for surgeons, to the digital apps available today for medical students, taking in the pop-up books, eveloped by David Pelham at Penguin Books in the 1960s. In the world of medication, giant pharmaceutical companies competed on the world’s stage for customers and profit. Bayer and Geigy are cited as pioneering the ‘international style’ associated with visual simplicity, minimalism and clear, clean graphics. Basically, this exhibition comprises very small objects in large vitrines, but there are some larger exhibits, such as the seminal Don’t Die of Ignorance commercial, made by Nick Roeg and narrated by John Hurt, which scared the living bejesus out of a generation. An anti-zika campaign in Brazil features bus stop poster sites that actually draw mosquitos into the billboard through the emission of CO2 and lactic acid, and then electrocute them, from a range of 2.5km radius. This is shown alongside Abram Games’ antimalaria poster, and a hand-painted Ebola awareness mural displaying symptoms during the outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

The final chapter in this exhibition relates how design has empowered ordinary people to react to increase organ donation in a Scottish Kill Jill campaign, and a series of ads on Network Rail promoting the We Listen posters for the Samaritans. All in all a good, worthy, exhibition, that informs and educates, but does not titillate or amuse, ignoring a plethora of available material.

Wellcome Collection

Until 14 January 2018
Admission free

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