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At Novagram, we feel privileged to work with a number of clients that are doing vital healthcare work. In order to support their missions, it’s important that we are able to consistently deliver high-quality work. Design, in particular, plays a very important role in healthcare. A 2017–2018 exhibition at the Wellcome Collection entitled ‘Can Graphic Design Save Your Life?’ explored the relationship between health and graphic design.

Clive Martin at CNN reported on the exhibition, writing:

A cigarette oozing fat. The clinical white glow of a pillbox. The distant green of a pharmacy sign. We might overlook it, but graphic design plays a major part in our perceptions of health and medicine. Through imagery and information, designers can have a massive effect on public health, helping us to identify symptoms and break bad habits.

Curated by Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright, the exhibition focused on influential designers whose work was used in a healthcare context.

One of our intentions with the show was to portray the variety of design and communication strategies,” explained Wright. “There are some really playful examples … In the education section, we have some children’s pop-up books [which] show us all about the human body. They are very accessible, very colorful … but we also have plague notices from the 15th century and cholera broadsheets.

One thing that the exhibition drew attention to is the way that design can be used to persuade an audience one way or another on a particular issue. When it comes to smoking, for example, ‘graphic design is as responsible for the proliferation of smoking as it is the fight to discourage it’.

Wright said:

“(Smoking) is one of the areas where the power and influence of graphic design has been recognized officially,” said Wright. “The World Health Organization chose the packaging and branding of cigarettes as a key battleground … So by legislating against the use of graphic design, it kind of elevates the power of graphic design.”

Design and advertising must serve different purposes in healthcare: sometimes invoking a sense of fear in order to warn against dangers, and sometimes providing a feeling of security and safety to calm those who are distressed. However, certain design choices may prove more effective than others.

David Rosner, a professor of sociomedical issues at Columbia University, says that the most effective adverts can be the ones that are the most ‘terrifying’.

“I generally worry that these campaigns make us in public health feel good, but are not very effective in shaping public behaviour in the face of industry efforts to convince people that they should smoke, eat fast food and drink alcohol. The cute little toad that accompanies beer commercials during football games is much more effective in promoting alcohol than any ads about liver cancer,” he said.

The Scottish government’s 2008 “Kill Jill” ad, which was designed to encourage people to register as organ donors, is an example of a successful campaign. The video encouraged viewers to take responsibility, and imagine the consequences of their choice – resulting in a 300% rise in organ donations.

In our work at Novagram, we’re aware of how not just branding and design, but digital presence, can play a key role in the success of healthcare efforts. We’ve worked to create brands and websites that unite global healthcare communities, and promote vital causes. Without a robust digital presence, healthcare organisations will find it harder to reach the audience that they need to access.

So, if you need a brand or website that will help you save lives – let us know.

We are Novagram, a UK creative agency
specialising in branding, design and digital development