Deborah Adler ClearRx Interview


Mid April of this year, New York Magazine published a fascinating article on the redesign of the pill bottle that Target would soon be using. Finding the process interesting I posted a small blurb about the New York Magazine article here on my blog. Soon afterwards I was getting a lot of interest through google from pharmaceutical companies, universities, research centers and other curious people and designers. Interested myself I searched for more info. Unfortunately I couldn’t find much more on the redesign myself so I contacted Deborah for an interview. Below are the questions I had about the redesign and her responses.

MICHAEL SURTEES: From the story in New York magazine, it was written that your grandmother accidentally swallowed pills meant for your Grandfather. How did you turn that issue into something that could be a thesis project for SVA?

DEBORAH ADLER: I grew up in a family of doctors, so the world of medicine has always been a strong interest of mine. It was important for me to develop an idea that had substance and would have meaning to my life. When my grandmother made the mistake, it became clear that I had an opportunity to develop an idea that was both close to me and satisfied my need to do something that would in some–way help others.

MS: How common is the issue of people taking wrong medication due to not understanding the label? How did you research the problem?

DA: It is not such an easy statistic to find. It actually took me a while to learn that errors made at home are indeed a contributing factor to medication errors at large. It was important for me to have a lot of information to back me up because I wanted it to live beyond my final thesis presentation. I did not want to do this unless there was a real need for it. I did most of my research by calling experts, reading books and studies, and searching the internet. People seem to be more receptive to students. It turns out that approximately 60 percent of Americans don’t take their medication correctly.

MS: There’s the issue that bad design can harm people, did your design process evolve as you worked on the project? How did you go about designing a new understandable label?

DA: My main priority was to create a labeling system that makes the medication user’s experience less confusing. I formed an intuitive label that is divided into two categories, primary and secondary. The primary information reflects exactly what the patient wants to know first. The name of the drug, its purpose, dosage and how to take it. The secondary information contains expiration, quantity, name of the doctor, how to reach him, etc. It also includes the drug store, the refill number and the dispensing date.

Information Hierarchy—(order, position, type size, contrast, leading, alignment and choice of typefaces) is another important factor to a functional and clear label.

These two elements coupled with the consumer’s point of view is crucial to the success of the labels legibility. It will also make drug safety information easier for doctors to find in a short amount of time. Not only did I want the labels to be functional and easy to understand, but it interested me that by understanding adult schemas for taking medication ,the label has the possibility of increasing memory.

MS: While working on the project, was there a moment when you thought you could turn the thesis into a working model that millions of people could benefit from?

DA: Yes. I just wasn’t sure how to get there.

MS: How involved were you with the process for the re-design of the bottle by Klaus Rosburg? Was it collaborative?

DA: Klaus and I worked closely together to ensure the synergy of the label with the bottle. Klaus’s challenge was to design a medicine bottle, with a child safety cap, which incorporated my initial ideas: color coding, the patient info card, having a front and a back, and being able to see the whole label without turning it in a circle. His contributions were significant in that his innovative shape elevated the level of communication between the bottle and the patient as well as elegantly streamline the new system.

MS: Thank you for your time Deborah!

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