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How Graphic Design Can Help Keep HIV From Spreading

A beautifully designed report on preventing HIV shows the vital importance of clear visual communication.

How Graphic Design Can Help Keep HIV From Spreading

Leon Dijkstra of the Dutch graphic design firm COOEE has sent us images of his elegant identity design for the health advocacy group the Global Network of People Living with HIV. The scheme, for a report on HIV prevention measures, highlights the role design can play in improving access to health care information.

Dijkstra's brief was to make the report easy to read and visually compelling — no small task when the most exciting topics at hand are improvements in rubber for female condoms and why diaphragms are ineffective at guarding against HIV. So he gave each technology its own abstract visual clue: vaccines are short vertical lines; microbicides are diagonal dashes; pre-exposure prophylaxis are two horizontal rows of dots; and so on.

Then he combined the visual clues of the technologies that each chapter references into a symbol that looks like a cell under a microscope. That became the chapter's defining feature.

The booklet's cover features all the technologies mashed into one circle.

But you don't even need to know any of that to appreciate the report's design. The layout follows some basic rules of how to convey information visually. It has lots of white space, the font is big and clear, and there are obvious division between headers and the body text.

The might seem like obvious stuff to designers. It's not to the health profession. Health care literature is famously illegible, whether you're talking about journal articles or those "Am I normal?" brochures in every middle-school nurse's office. It isn't too much of a stretch to assume that how health information is presented can be a factor in determining how people take care of themselves.

Dijkstra's HIV prevention report was produced for distribution among HIV/ AIDS policy makers. Imagine if free clinics started handing out literature of the same caliber. It wouldn't stop the spread of HIV — but at least it'd make it easier for people to read up on how to protect themselves.

[Images via COOEE]