work blog about search
 
 

Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?

Roughly 9 years ago, in September of 2008, we wrote a post, De-branding cigarettes, about the fact that the Department of Health was considering making it compulsory to use plain packaging to sell cigarettes in the UK. We were intrigued at the idea of a major product having its branding completely removed. To illustrate the article we mocked up a blank cigarette pack, and then added some graphics to it in Photoshop.

In May of 2015, Lucienne Roberts from publishing house GraphicDesign& got in touch about a possible new exhibition they were curating called ‘Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?’, commissioned by the Wellcome Collection. The exhibition would be about graphic design related to health, and she asked if we’d be happy to have the packs we designed included. We explained that the actual packs didn’t exist, but that we’d gladly put some new ones together for the show. We put some new artwork together, and got busy with the scalpel and double sided sticky tape.

Jump cut to today, and the show has just opened at the Wellcome Collection in London, and features our packs.

The show, divided into six sections – Persuasion, Education, Hospitalisation, Medication, Contagion and Provocation – examines the role of graphic design in helping to make the world a better place, and features many examples of it doing just that.

(It does also touch on the fact that it can do the exact reverse too of course – showing that Raymond Loewy’s revised packaging designs for Lucky Strike helped to dramatically increase the number of smokers in the USA.)

Encouragingly, Rebecca Wright, one of the partners at GraphicDesign&, and Programme Director of Graphic Communication Design at Central Saint Martins, said at the show’s launch that design responsibility is a hot topic amongst students.

Relatively recently (May of this year) standardised cigarette packs were finally introduced in the UK. This was due to happen in 2014, but the legislation was delayed by challenges to its legality. Thankfully they’re not the clean, minimalist packs we had hypothesised for our piece, but instead are deeply unattractive, largely based on the designs that already existed in Australia (introduced at the end of 2012) which can also be seen at the Wellcome show.

The packs are a dark brown green – Pantone 448C which researchers for the Australian packaging found to be unattractive and associated with death and tar. They feature large and generally off-putting images showing the harmful effects of smoking. The brand name and product variant is set in Helvetica, with other information and health warnings in Helvetica and Neue Frutiger. You can read the full guidance here.

Intriguingly, this is a case of packaging being designed to be as unattractive as possible. Almost a form of anti-design.

One can only hope that this, together with the bans on tobacco advertising and display in shops, and the ban on smoking in public buildings, as well as the rise of e-cigarettes, continues to drive down the numbers of tobacco smokers in the UK.

The show is definitely worth a visit (entry is free), and runs from now until 14 January; and an accompanying book by GraphicDesign& is also available.

posted: 7 September 2017
categories: Exhibitions | Graphics
 
recommended reading

Ace Jet 170
One of the finest individual design blogs (it’s been going as long as we have!) from Irish designer Richard Weston. Covering found type, print and stuff.

Casual Optimist
If you want to know what’s happening in the world of book cover design, keep an eye on this excellent blog by Dan Wagstaff.

Creative Review
Covering design and advertising, CR has been running since 1981, under the editorship of Patrick Burgoyne since 1999. Essential reading.

Daniel Gray
Dan writes a column in Creative Review, and this is his consistently entertaining blog about design and suchlike.

Eye Magazine
The best graphic design magazine out there, from editor John L. Walters and art director Simon Esterson.

Flat File
A fantastic collection of online publications based on pieces from the Herb Lubalin Study Centre.

Grafik
Grafik is the brilliant online magazine about all things graphic design, from writers Caroline Roberts and Angharad Lewis.

Justin’s Amazing World
Justin Hobson, of Fenner Paper, is a bona fide expert on paper & print, and a charming chap to boot. His blog features in-depth analysis of the projects he’s worked on, including a few of our own.

Kottke.org
One of the oldest blogs on the web. And one of the best.

Lecture in Progress
An invaluable collection of wisdom from a range of graphic designers, illustrators, photographers et al. From the team that brought you It’s Nice That.

Spitalfields Life
The anonymous Gentle Author of this wonderful blog has promised to write 10,000 stories about the life & culture of Spitalfields in east London, writing one story each and every day.

St Bride Library
The St Bride Library houses one of the world’s finest collection of books (& related objects) about printing and design. It also hosts unmissable design talks and events.

Styling and Salvage
Rupert Blanchard is a mate of ours, and makes great furniture. This blog covers his projects, interests, and life in Margate.

Subtraction.com
Brooklyn-based designer Khoi Vinh has been writing insightfully about design, technology and culture since the turn of the millennium.

The Ride Journal
A glorious mix of the very best writing and illustration about all types of cycling. On an indefinite break now, but you can download past issues for free.