When designing for mental health, it’s easy to perpetuate tired metaphors—calming motifs of clouds or trees—or to approach the topic in more of a clinical and detached way. Berlin-based visual communication student Katharina Schwarz has purposefully taken a different tact for her MA thesis, a book of infographics pertaining to suicide factors and rates in Germany. The publication, entitled Nichtsein (meaning “to not be”) treads two difficult lines gracefully, managing to be both emotive and richly metaphorical, as well as sophisticated, respectful, and precise.
“I wasn’t sure if I could deal with such a dark topic for almost a year,” says Schwarz, who has graduated this summer from Berlin’s University of the Arts, where she studied with information designer David Skopec. “After researching though, I was shocked how little I knew about it and how many are actually affected. I didn’t know, for example, that suicide was the second leading cause of death for people at my age (25-30 years). That’s why I decided to research more and do a project about it.”
One of the most elegant and considered aspects of the book takes up nearly one third of it: a dense infographic representing the number of suicides in Germany in 2015, sorted by age. Each lilac page is skilfully pierced with holes, each one standing for one suicide, with faded white text guiding the reader to the accompanying information. Following this hefty section, the book is then divided into various chapters, each concerned with a different factor such as gender, income, marital status, or minority groups. Loneliness and depression aren’t shown in statistics; instead, Schwarz decided to include suicide letters and personal stories, all printed on heavy, bluish paper to distinguish them from the scientific parts of the book.
“In the end, I represented the topic of suicide by reducing the graphics step by step until they almost disappear,” says Schwarz. “Sometimes I went further and removed graphics completely from the page, leaving only empty space behind, like the people themselves.”