“The establishment of the pharmaceutical industry, especially in the mid-20th century, played a significant role in the evolution of graphic design and advertising.”
The above quote comes from a current design show at Cooper Union in NYC (running until Dec 3, 2011) called PHARMA featuring some work of Herb Lubalin (also Paul Rand, Aldo Calabresi, Andy Warhol). The work above is Lubalin’s from the part of his career spent at Sudler & Hennessey, an agency which to this day specializes in medical advertising.
I was surprised to find pharmaceutical design in Lubalin’s trajectory. Lubalin, designer of the typeface Avant Garde and founder of U&lc magazine, is the paragon of a designer’s designer, the kind of designer you imagine has no clients because his work seems so much his own. But of course he didn’t start out that way.
I haven’t much considered the influence of pharmaceutical companies on graphic design. More often than not, I am thinking the reverse: How can graphic design better influence pharmaceutical companies? But of course it’s a historical fact. Pharmaceutical companies = money, and money (in the past) has equaled diffusion and influence of ideas.
Lubalin’s involvement in the medical industry is not the first thing to escape me over the past two weeks, the majority of which I’ve spent familiarizing myself with new acronyms, new processes and new equipment. And at the end of two weeks immersed in rather unfamiliar territories (‘embedded’ Joe calls it), I can’t help fantasizing about life without acryonyms. How simple and straightforward we could be!
The following ads invoke a similar nostalgia for simplicity. While they are vintage and stylized in a trendy, splash your face with cold water kind of way, there is also an elegant form of communication. Concept was king. There was no need to flood real estate with hundreds of words. Color palettes were limited, shapes were geometric and organized.
Maybe there is something to learn from this part of design history. Would it be possible to make the modern patient forget about the way they are being communicated with, the tools they are using, the processes they are going through, and simply present them with a kind of art? Would it take?
That’s not a rhetorical question. As I become more familiar with what’s already on the healthcare market, it is those simple, elegant, intuitive designs that establish themselves in culture most effectively. I’m looking forward to sharing some of those great examples of current medical design soon.