The Wellcome Collection's show Can Graphic Design Save your Life highlights the importance of graphic design as a way to communicate on the deepest level. The powerful connection between health and the text and imagery used to communicate with the public shows that most of us are completely dependent on graphic design in order to understand our bodies and to fix them when something goes wrong. What is the pill with out its packaging? A dangerous drug like any other and to be avoided. The show reveals that it is graphic design that gives the pill its sugar coating letting us know what is safe and what is to be avoided.
The show also explores the ethics of big pharmaceutical companies in controlling our access to drugs and the connection between graphic design and branding. This puts designers in tricky positions at the service of their international employers as they seek to communicate within the constraints of the industry. Smoking is a key area focused on in the show. In the past advertising agencies such as Saatchi and Saatchi created slick campaigns for cigarette brands such as Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges. The show reveals how this has more recently mutated into attempts to discourage smokers through a redesign of packaging to focus not on glamour and lifestyle but on the ravaged and broken body created by long term cigarette consumption.
Visiting the show was an eye opening experience in revealing the range of commercial applications of graphic design.
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