Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Over the last few of months, my seven-day-a-week research and writing schedule didn't leave me a lot of time for other things, especially not extra trips into London for exhibitions. After the final hand in for my Master's degree, I headed straight out to visit my mum in Mauritius, and after that had a whole (slightly jetlagged) four days before diving straight into work on a research project. Most of those were spent doing life admin, but I also sneaked in a trip to the Wellcome Collection to see their new exhibition: Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?

Split over six sections (persuasion, education, hospitalisation, medication, contagion and provocation), the show examines the often overlooked sphere of design related to health: the information campaigns, wayfinding design, medication packaging and a whole host of other graphics. It's something which I've thought about a little more since starting to collect matchbox labels, which very often were used to communicate health related information (or flat out propaganda). My favourite objects were the vintage anti-smoking stamps, issued from 65 countries so far; the Catoptrum Microcosmicum from 1660, featuring hinged paper layers showing human anatomy; the New Rail Alphabet typeface developed from Margaret Calvert's original and used first in the NHS; Yin Yao's pain visualisation research; and 19th century broadsheets warning of the cholera epidemic. It's really a treasure trove of amazing design objects, many of which you'd probably never notice in day to day life but are essential - like the 'battenberg emergency' pattern on ambulances, or the familiar prescription bags from Boots. Another cracker from the Wellcome Collection, and it's free! If you can't get to the exhibition before January, you can see highlights, and even download the information about the exhibits, on the website.

FIND 'CAN GRAPHIC DESIGN SAVE YOUR LIFE?' AT: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

Some of my health-related matchbox labels!


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