“Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?” Exhibition

On the 10th November this year, I attended “Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?” exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London. As the title suggests, this exhibition showcased a number of different graphic design works from the past century around the theme of health, whether they were used as propaganda, informative or as part of advertising. There was a large collection of different works, and I’ll go through some of my highlights that stood out to me and feel are relevant in some way to my work.


Dying for a Smoke (1967) – Nick O’Teen

This cartoon by Nick O’Teen was aimed at 12-15 year olds and screened in schools. With a humorous moral fable, this piece used the vividness of cartoon characters to appeal and speak to a younger audience directly.

This is where I start to think about accessibility to my audience. I haven’t really nailed down an audience at this point, but I know I want it to be accessible to fellow sufferers of chronic illnesses, not necessarily specific to fibromyalgia. The cartoon was shown in schools. For my project, maybe I could target the medical sector, such as occupational health and rheumatology departments, as well as mental health charities etc. At the same time, many sufferers are house bound or with limited mobility. As a result, there is a large community online. Therefore, I know I want my work to be accessible online.

Also, this cartoon contains humour whilst conveying a serious message. I’ve been working on a few drawings lately and looking at them together gives an impression of someone that’s really miserable, which isn’t the case. Yes, my health can make me miserable but I need to remember the balance of the good. I think humour should play a part in my work; there definitely have been a few instances where my fibromyalgia has been funny.


Catoptrum Microcosmicum (1660) – Johann Remmelin

‘Johann Remmelin: Catoptrum microcosmicum…’ . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

This book of printed illustrations of the human body had hinged flaps that can peel back to reveal anatomy. This was a popular training aid for surgeons and doctors, especially during dissections. This book also contained both male and female anatomy, a rarity for the time.

This work drew me in, not just because of the stunningly detailed illustrations, but I really like the interactivity. Pop-ups and flaps revealing other images could work really well with my work. I’m trying to convey an invisible illness, and this method could really work. How this could be reproduced in a book form without hand making each one would be a challenge and something to look into, but this method can be replicated a lot more easily and cheaply online, whilst again being more accessible to a wider audience as well as my target audience.


Infographics: Human Body (2014) Peter Grundy

Image result for infographics human body peter grundy
The Human Skeleton from “Infographics: Human Body” 2014 ©Peter Grundy

Peter Grundy has been considered to be the pioneer of infographics, where graphics conveys information. This is a playful approach to non-fiction with bright colours, appealing to all ages. This book is organised in tabs, so it is easy to read and can navigate the book with ease and in any order the reader chooses.

Grundy has avoided conventional medical illustration, removing its complexities and detail, simplifying the figures with block colour and line-less shapes. This style is exaggerated and not realistic, yet can still be understood in relation to our own bodies.

Although my work is more about the relationship I have with my body than giving information about the body in general, I like the simplicity of this work, as I often get bogged down with details and sometimes maybe even over complicating my illustrations.


Journal of Norwegian Medical Journal (1988) – Katie Scott

Image result for katie scott journal of norwegian medical

This anatomical drawing by Katie Scott attracted me purely because of its aesthetics. I really love how she has embellished it with flourishes of line work and colour, as well as the combination of human and plant life, much of which share similar properties. I also really like the autumnal colour scheme.


The Feeling of Pain (2012) – Yin Yao

Image from “The Feeling of Pain” ©Yin Yao

This is a student project that Yin Yao created whilst studying for his graphic design degree. In this, he explores methods of visualising pain, which he started to develop when he struggled to convey the physical effects of a migraine to medics. As well as historical image based research, Yao surveyed 100 people to see if age, gender, nationality affected how we visually present pain. This research takes the form of a textbook with infographics displaying his findings.

This project directly speaks to my project and is a very interesting a logical way of presenting these findings. Although I find this interesting, I knew that this is the opposite of what I want to achieve with my work. We are both dealing with perceptions that are difficult to quantify and explain, so I want to go about this in a more linguistic and creative way, with metaphors and fantasy. For my purpose, I feel that this direction would work better and be more beneficial to my audience.


Hand-painted Mural (2014) – Stephen Doe

Image result for hand painted wall stephen doe

During the outbreak of Ebola, Stephen Doe painted the symptoms of Ebola onto a wall in Monrovia. This painting is accessible to a wider audience in so many ways. The fact it was on a wall in a public space is instantly accessible to the community. With a range of languages spoken and illiteracy, the symptoms are visual, combating these barriers. Also, the use of the colour red aids in the significance of danger. Although I don’t think I really have this problem as my audience already are aware of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, it is important to make my points clear, as it is easy to overcomplicate.

Overall, this exhibition was incredibly insightful into the power imagery can have on health related information. As well as giving me some ideas for my project, it also revealed to me what I don’t want to do, which could just as important. I don’t want this project to become a pamphlet that you’d get at the hospital when diagnosed with a new illness. I want this to be a visual release for me and my experiences that could be of worth to other sufferers and give insight to non-sufferers that are affected by the condition.


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