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Opinion° No.3: Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?

  • 09 January 2018
  • Posted by Tilly

A new book from publishers GraphicDesign& strikes an interesting question: Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? It’s accompanied by an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London, which casts a closer eye over the relationship between graphic design and health; it includes “posters, pharmacy signs and digital teaching aids, exhibiting healthcare messages from around the world.” 

Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? Publication.

Well, can Graphic Design save your life? The short answer is YES, and here are a few examples of how.

Standardised cigarette packaging became compulsory in the UK from 20 May 2017. Printing plain packaging meant that all tobacco distributors could only place their branding in standard sizes and in certain locations. Doing so, it left all the power to the design to change the behaviour of smokers. Studies in Australia, 2012 found that after “3 years an estimated 100,000 people stopped smoking.” 

Everything about cigarette packaging is now standardised, even the colour — through research it was found that the most unappealing ugly colour was Pantone 448c; a greenish-brown. This colour best mimicked dirt and tar; words that you would associate with smoking. It might not be completely clear if the new packaging design is the main reason for changing people’s behaviour and attitudes towards smoking, but it is certainly a big factor. 

Anti-smoking stamp from Syria— Wellcome Collection Exhibition.

Colour is widely used with medicine, most commonly red; it’s communicative, so if you see something stamped red you automatically think ‘warning’. These types of messages help people determine what medicine is what and how to use it. 

Symbols are also used for the same reason; a great example of this is a visual identity for TEVA, designed by Dan Reisinger. You can appreciate the simplicity and clarity of the design, with pictograms being added on every design to represent an area of treatment. The package size even plays a part as the package size depends on what each dosage is. 

 TEVA packaging (Hebrew-English), 1986, Dan Reisinger. 

Suffering from anxiety and panic attacks himself, Graphic Designer Ollie Alpin founded a platform called MindJournal. The campaign is aimed at men to give them the opportunity to write down their own fears and worries to help with their personal wellbeing. MindJournal’s aim is to make men feel more comfortable discussing their personal health and the journal includes writing exercises, motivational tips and detailed support guides that are backed up by science. 

Thinking about and writing down thoughts and feelings doesn’t always come naturally to most men, however this Journal gives men a great way to think out loud. The discussions of male mental issue is gradually growing and MindJournal certainly helps that.

"I’m doing this because I wish something like this existed years ago when I was going through a tough time.” — Ollie Alpin.

MindJournal Cover; Graphic Designer Ollie Alpin.

Medomina Advertising (sedative) c.1960’s — Medomina Advertising was known for being very memorable as the design and graphics used were very modern.

A prime example of influencing Graphic Design is semiotics; the use of signs and symbols, which are a part of our daily life. Red meaning stop, and green meaning go are the smaller forms of semiotics we can all relate to, but when used in advertising semiotics can be a tool to signify an advertiser’s message through the use of a simple sign or symbol; this could be something that could encourage you to buy something. When you ask yourself “what does that mean?” — that is Semiotician.  

Graphic Design as a whole isn’t something that can directly save your life, but it is definitely a factor and a very powerful tool when used correctly. There are countless examples of clever design and symbols that help you or persuade you to change your behaviour everyday; posters that are designed so that they encourage you to donate money and feed starving children, food packaging that helps you pick the healthier option, even signage throughout hospitals so you know different symptoms for illnesses that could be life threatening. These things might not be very impactful but it’s the little things that you do that can ‘help save your life’. 

For more information on these subjects:

Publication— http://www.graphicdesignand.com

Exhibition— https://wellcomecollection.org/exhibitions/WZwh4ioAAJ3usf86

Cigarette Packaging— https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/apr/11/uk-supreme-court-denies-tobacco-firms-permission-for-plain-packaging-appeal

MindJournal— https://www.mindjournals.com