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Help is at Hand - Compelling not clichéd

Supported by Public Health England and the National Suicide Prevention Alliance; Help is at Hand is a practical support guide for people who have been bereaved by suicide. It’s unique because the narrative is ledby personal experiences to help others affected by someone taking their own life. 

The most recent official figures reveal 6,233 suicides of people aged 15 and over were registered in the UK in 2013 and suicide has far-reaching effects among friends, family, colleagues, and the wider community. Those bereaved by a suicide are at increased risk of mental health and emotional problems and may be at higher risk of suicide themselves, so receiving the right support is essential.

When I was asked to be part of this project,  I really was totally naive to the journey I was about to embark on. I have designed many pieces of collateral for the health sector in the past but this was something very new. I was prepared that the sensitivities would be huge. The theme of ‘aspirational’ would be tricky - thinking in a traditional, optimistic sense; images of water, trees and horizons an absolute no-go. So how does one design for an audience where you really don’t want to end up in the cracks of clichés; hand holding one another for support and head in hands for distress. This I was compelled to steer clear of. 

It felt only right to let the compelling, heart felt memoirs hero this piece of collateral. But that had it’s challenges.. 

Normally in concept stage, I’m fortunate to present three options and hit a happy note within the parameters of three.. but here, this was not the case. By round 6 in stage 1, I was almost prepared to ask if the client wanted to commission another designer. If it wasn’t the imagery being questioned, it was colour (can’t use red that’s blood, can’t use purple that’s funeral, yellow is bright and optimistic but it has to be legible..and so on) I’m also fully aware the need of six colours for the different chapters regardless of these colour restrictions.

As the process unfolded, I had to keep reminding myself of the ‘real’ and personal stories driving this. I felt compelled that this had to hero the person, but using people was not the solution. It had to feel like it was coming from a real space and time in that person’s life. We built our visual theme on this. But sadly we also learnt through testing that for some this theme was deemed too personal. Our overarching theme was ‘individual optimism’ creating two pictorial themes for the guide;  1). inside the home to capture individual stories and 2). Wild flowers used as section markers. Both styles brought together with a sun glare to infuse optimism.

Sadly we were unable to go with a home environment shot for the cover. It was tested amongst 25 people all bereaved by suicide and the imagery selected conjured up too much questioning. From a designer’s perspective I was a little deflated by the fact we had gone with a cover that was ‘safe’. However, with so many things at stake and so many challenges (as described above) we lost a tiny battle but won the war. To get a health publication out like this, I have learnt is a mammoth task.

This project has been six months in the making, it was only ever determined as three. It was supposed to be a 48 page document, it ended up as 72. Despite the extra time at the start of the creative process, I managed to sail to the finish line saving on design fee, which wasn’t a massive saving but it does exist. 

Help is at Hand, launched Thursday 24th September 2015

Visit www.supportaftersuicide.org.uk for information
and to order a copy of Help is at Hand.

Helen HoldenComment