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Graphic Gallery: Green

Green is fresh, the colour of nature and of innocence. It’s also the colour of nausea, greed and jealousy. You can put your trust in green, until it reveals its darker side...

By Kirsten Riley

  • Story

Green listens

Samaritans 2016 campaign poster by designer Mullen Lowe in partnership with Network Rail

Green is welcoming, the colour of safety and permission. It says ‘come in, sit down, relax!’ It invites, rather than repels. Green lights signal the right to proceed, exit signs request an ordered departure, while green men indicate a safe crossing. It’s no surprise then that the Samaritans logo is green, offering 'call us free any time' reassurance and security.

Paradise in the post

Stamp from the Republic of Iraq for World Health Day, 1980

In the Qur'an green is associated with paradise, a place where people 'will wear green garments of fine silk'. It also features prominently in the flags of several Muslim-majority countries. This stamp from the Republic of Iraq uses the power of green by contrasting the carcinogenic impact of nicotine with the positive associations of living a greener, cleaner life.

Trust me, I’m a tablet

Bayer aspirin packet, 1939

Green inspires trust, a feeling that’s vitally important when adopting a new medication. Aspirin was developed in the late 1890s by Bayer chemist Dr. Felix Hoffmann. By 1915 it was being sold over the counter in tablet form, in dispensers and boxes not unlike this packet from 1939. Aspirin became so ubiquitous that in 1950 it landed a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most popular pain killer in the world.

Protection on every street corner

A green neon-lit pharmacy shop sign on the corner of a street with a message in French: 'There are places for protection on every street corner', c.1990s.

The green cross pharmacy sign reflects the internationally recognized red cross, used as the symbol for the humanitarian movement set up in Geneva in 1864. Many pharmacies in France originally displayed the red cross outside their stores, however in 1913, in a bid to protect the 'Croix-Rouge' symbol's exclusive reference to neutrality and protection in armed conflict, a law prohibited its use.

Eduardo loves green

Advertisement for safe sex by the SAD Shorestichting. Colour lithograph by Jan Gort, c.1990s

Red is often associated with love, passion and romance, but in the context of sexual health, green represents a sober yet invigorating appeal to safety and responsibility. The message here is clear "I love sex, I love life.”  Green tells us they are synonymous and that one needn't be sacrificed for the other.


Watercolour drawing illustrating dry gangrene of the foot and ankle, 1880.

Green’s darker side is sickness; the colour of decaying flesh, moldy food and a ‘green around the gills’ pallor. Gangrene is a serious condition that, despite its name, presents in many different colours depending on type and stage. But green is also grene, the Middle English term from the same Germanic root as the words ‘grass’ and ‘grow’, while gan- goes all the way back to the Ancient Greek word grainein (to gnaw). So gangrene can be literally interpreted as a ‘consumption of growth’ and therefore, historically speaking, green.

To be or not to be

Digital artwork showing the lungs covered in an array of flowers and vines by Bill McConkey

Green is not just an adjective but a noun – to ‘be green’ is to be environmentally responsible. Such accountability not only impacts on the climate but also our personal health, as recent statistics suggest that air pollution contributes to around 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK.

<em>Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? is at Wellcome Collection until 14 January 2018.

About the contributors

Photograph of Kirsten Riley

Kirsten Riley


Kirsten is Wellcome Collection's Web Editor for Social Media.