Making Health Information Appealing: The Basics of Graphic Design

While visiting a doctor’s office recently, I spent some time looking at the brochures and signs posted on the wall and started thinking about which signs catch my eyes and which ones do not. What sort of visual presentation draws me in and keeps me reading?  As a public health student, I have become much more aware of the different health messages that are posted on the backs of bathroom doors, in medical office brochures and posters, and throughout various websites. I am often curious about how effective these messages really are. For example, how often does the hand washing sign really prompt someone to wash their hands? And even more so, how often does someone who is not acutely aware of these messages even notice these signs or brochures?

I have become particularly interested in these kinds of questions as a member of a research group that is undergoing the process of developing an informational tool for patients. Through the process of developing the tool, I have realized how little I actually know about what goes into designing these health messages. This is especially true for someone who is extremely detail-unaware as I am. I do not typically take the time to evaluate the overall presentation of work I am submitting as I know the papers I write will be read (when being graded) and will not be used by the general public. However, working on this project has ignited a desire to better understand the basics of graphic design as a useful skill in public health. Even when working on a research project at a university, the dissemination portion of this research requires skills that I have never learned regarding putting together a final product that will draw readers in and convey the critical take home message that will hopefully lead to changed behavior or the necessary information for improved health outcomes. More and more, I am seeing the benefits of having basic skills in graphic design for knowledge translation and the dissemination of health information.

My work on this research project as well as my curiosity about the world of graphic design has lead me to  this really useful and brief (14 minutes) presentation on the basics of graphic design. Check out the video below for the presentation which gives a great overview of some concepts to consider when putting together a project:

In this video, you would have seen critical concepts being discussed. These concepts include:

  1. Contrast
  2. Repetition
  3. Alignment
  4. Proximity

These four concepts are great reminders to ensure that elements such as fonts, bold text and colours are used to make key messages pop, while also organizing the information in such a way that it is understood to be delivering one overall message with similar ideas grouped together. These four concepts help a reader understand what they should be taking away from a message and what is the overall purpose of the project, be it a poster, pamphlet, website, or other form of health message. I particularly find the information about colour combinations and the use of colour to be helpful. It is important to consider what colour combinations help messages pop, as well as how combinations of similar colours are visually pleasing and help once again, provide some repetition that make the whole project feel complete. This video demonstrates how the use of a colour wheel throughout the project can be a useful tool as complementary colours will be opposite on the colour wheel while similar colours will be next to one another on the colour wheel.

Not only is the information from this video useful when designing your own project, but this may be useful when evaluating other projects. Just as the author of this video does, try evaluating other health information projects with the criteria presented in this video to see if the principles of graphic design are being used… Here are a couple of examples to practice on:

WHO Healthy Food Guide_Page_1

Public Health Agency of Canada Tips for being Physically Active for Adults

Public Health Agency of Canada Tips for being Physically Active for Adults


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