• Designing the virus

Candela, Emily, 2021, Journal Article, Designing the virus Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, 51 (1). pp. 140-145. ISSN 1939-1811

Abstract or Description:

‘Designing the Virus’ brings together my ongoing research across the histories of science and design in two specific areas: practices of visualizing viruses for both scientific and public communication; and design in response to risk. In 2020, these areas intersected in a way that was impossible, as a researcher, to ignore, when a medical illustration of coronavirus released by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took on life in a way that no previous scientific image has done, as a frequently cut-and-pasted, remixed, and broadcast signal not only of the danger posed by the virus, but of the pandemic itself.

By summer 2020, the ‘spiky blob’ coronavirus illustration had grown prevalent in the visual culture of numerous countries across the globe. This essay, written in August 2020 in part as a ‘timestamp’ of the period, questions what it means for a biomedical image to become an icon for a global crisis. I analyse the image from interdisciplinary angles of the history of graphic design for public health communication and scientific image-making practices, draw upon published interviews with the CDC’s medical illustrators, and build on recent research in disaster studies that critiques the notion of ‘natural disaster’. The medical illustration of the coronavirus presents an unusual case in the history of public risk communication, as a stand-alone scientific image that has come to act as a piece of wordless risk communication. I argue that this image, and its widespread dissemination in the US (and beyond), ‘implicitly reinforces a specific position within the politics of risk that have been unfolding in the US during the pandemic: that the overriding threat is the virus itself, divorced from the social, political, and environmental factors that shape how lives across the globe are affected by this pathogen’.

Official URL: https://online.ucpress.edu/hsns/article-abstract/5...
Subjects: Other > Historical and Philosophical studies > V300 History by topic > V370 History of Design
Other > Historical and Philosophical studies > V300 History by topic > V380 History of Science
Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W210 Graphic Design
School or Centre: School of Communication
Identification Number or DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2021.51.1.140
Uncontrolled Keywords: virus; graphic design; communication design; public health communication; scientific image
Date Deposited: 31 Mar 2021 09:17
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2021 09:17
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/4769
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