Can Graphic Design Save Your Life
Wellcome Collection; London
Initially, walking into the Wellcome Collection, it was so intriguing and inviting. Like any advanced science museum or collection, they get you with the large-scale sculptures hanging above your head upon entry, here these were large brass human figures hanging upside down, gazing at you as you came through the door. There was no way of knowing exactly what the exhibit was going to be about – the name Wellcome should have tipped me off Well/come, maybe some holistic science? But ironically enough, the name specifically has really no direct relation to the curated processes of the wellbeing, but by happenstance it is the actual name of the gentleman, Sir Henry Wellcome, who was an obsessive collector in the early 20th century of medical documentation and devices. He was fascinated by the body and by medicine; maybe his life was subliminally determined, how clever.
Can Graphic Design Save Your Life, therein, was dedicated to the agents of art and its makers in contributing to the wellbeing of humans. With meticulous purposefulness, artists over the decades [and centuries] presented designs aimed at wittily focusing an attention to our overall biological health. The lead off through the room was impactful, a gloomy grey panel wall artfully decorated as a tribute to the rise and fall of smoking. Nostalgia ran rampant down this 100-foot stretch, everything from the aesthetically inviting cigarette cartons, that I swear I saw in an attic of my grandma, making smoking look so luxurious and decadent, to the stamps emblazoned with emblems of fortitude and fags. If I smoke a cigarette from this carton, I will be fabulous and respected. A few more feet ahead, you proceed upon a drastic discovery of side effects. A change in health regulations, surgeon general warnings add cautionary tales to the wrappings, playful cartoons incite the visual damages to your lungs and the environment, all the way to ending, whimsical posters proclaiming death by inhalation. The story, impressively told in solely design, product and image: a past time we believed in – relaxing and “helped you breath better;” now an all-consuming maleficent waste of health.
Not all the bite-size bespoke displays were gruesome, a few yes, not all. A cleverly sectioned display snaked through the middle of the gallery. The pale blue hospital-gown paper curtain was perfectly pleated and hung, as it would be by your ailing bedside. In between the blue screens there were displays committed to the education of types of rooms, procedures, medical practices and the like. Comforting and colorful posters detailed the types of systems in the body and processes of the organs.
As you may discern by the patter here, color played a prominent role inspiring the mood of the subject. Yellow – the color used to grab attention, as it is the first color you see – was used conspicuously in the far corner to present the subjects of disease education and prevention. The relationship between the photographs of artists creating large pieces meant to reach those who could not read, with the public service pamphlets and videos gave a sense of the complex narrative within our society, serving ourselves vs. serving the whole and the empathic determination to communicate to that whole in a singular visual language needed to reach them in an opportune time, to save them. The yellow really solidified the sensitivity to awareness and importance that the material demanded.
Discreetly and modestly tucked adjacent to the window next to the door on happy-baby pink walls was a collection of material designed to address the human emotional fluctuations. A timely message, with an unprecedented amount of knowledge growth in the divisions of psychology and positive psychology in our current culture; the delicate arrangements delved into the ideas of someone, anyone, gaining health and life by being heard, feeling acknowledged, affirmed and ultimately aided. The capacity we have to use art as a gift to revolutionize the health of the mind is extraordinary and it is quite special to witness in design a true forward-thinking belief in this wellness.
If you are in anyway skeptical to attend this exhibit, don’t let the simple structure and clean layout intimidate you. The information and ideas displayed in the exhibit are astute and determinate. Although maybe slightly minimal, a hope for something more personal, there was still a feeling of an accomplished and witty story. Can graphic design truly save your life? It seems certainly so, or is it in the least, a guide to making the decisions that improve your chances.
The exhibit for a fraction of a second longer, at the Wellcome Gallery on Euston just west of Kings Cross, London.