Design I Like – This Is What Happens When A Fly Lands On Your Food

This is what happens when a fly lands on your food - The impact of good design in health education.

When I was a kid, I always seemed to be at the doctor’s.

I wasn’t a sickly child, I was usually there for the usual pre-school check-ups, illnesses and immunisations all toddlers have. I’d sit with my Mum or my Gran and wait for our name to be called. As most of us know, waiting for anything at 5 years old is not easy. Something must be done.

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“Of course, my mother could have whipped out the iPad and fired YouTube up, but unfortunately it was 1979 and therefore not an option”.

The only viable option in this bygone age was to cast ones eyes around the myriad of notices and posters that lined the walls.

There were the usual anti-smoking posters, advertisements for mother and baby clubs and information on jabs and suchlike. I was, however, always drawn back to the same poster. Transfixed by the clarity of it’s message. It read, “This is what happens when a fly lands on your food”, before explaining, in graphic detail, how a fly eats. Not pretty.

this is what happens when a fly lands on you food

At 5 years old this poster hit me hard, subsequently, as an adult I still find it’s impact unequivocal.

“This is what happens when a fly lands on your food” was commissioned by the Health Education Council in 1970. It’s aim was simple. End the ignorance surrounding the health risks associated with flies.

Tasked with the project was a young advertising executive named Charles Saatchi. He hit the nail right on the head. There’s not much to this poster, but what there is, works.

The strong, sans-serif typeface and close kerning adds an air of authority. The lines of text perfectly positioned to guide the reader’s eyes down to that last line.

“And then, when they’ve finished eating, it’s your turn.”

Wow. How’s that to put you off your dinner? The design ends with the quintessential British meal of “meat and two veg”. A cultural icon so strong it was impossible not to identify with it.

This iconic poster was a mainstay in surgeries, hospitals and clinics throughout the country for over a decade. Good design lasts. Saatchi didn’t stop there either, going on to become one of the most successful, if controversial, figures in advertising. Indeed, his renowned “Labour Isn’t Working” poster for the Conservative Party some 8 years later, arguably helped turned the tide in a general election.

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