Graphic Design: Taking Lives or Saving Them?

It’s not a surprise to most of us that Graphic Design has been credited with taking lives.

Revisiting the rise of Joe Camel in the US during the 1980s before the campaign was banned offers a quick refresher. By the time it was stopped in 1997 Camel had 32 percent of the teen cigarette market, and more than 90 percent of six-year-olds could recognize Joe (more than knew Mickey Mouse).

One needs to look no further than advertising for alcohol and its prevalence in major events like the Superbowl to find more examples of the strong influence graphic design has. Research shows that in addition to parents and peers, alcohol advertising and marketing have a significant impact on whether or not youths decide to drink. Research also shows that alcohol advertising and marketing influence expectations and attitudes and creates an environment that promotes underage drinking.

A new exhibit at the Wellcome Collection in London takes a balanced approach. The exhibit features a collection of over 200 objects created by graphic designers that explore the role of graphic design in creating healthcare messages that inform, persuade, and empower people. Curators Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright have included everything from 16th-century anatomical pop-up books, 21st century apps, to comic books advocating safe sex.

The Guardian’s recent review of the exhibit talks about how the section on smoking skillfully pairs examples of seductive attempts at selling tobacco with clever efforts to get people to kick the habit. The review features many examples of the exhibit, as does the exhibit’s Image Gallery and Steven Heller’s recent Print Magazine article, “Graphic Design is Healthy.”

If you are like me and can’t get to London before it closes, be sure to view it online.


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