THOUGHTS

MEDICINAL PACKAGING SHOULD NOT BE AN EYE TEST.

By

Lee Newham

Reading time: 3:30 min

DESIGNERS SHOULD LOOK AT THE REACTIONS OF PEOPLE, NOT JUST WHAT THEY SAY. IF YOU ASK ‘CAN YOU READ THIS?’ AND THEY SAY ‘YES’, BUT THEY ARE SQUINTING, THERE IS A PROBLEM

Since she was eighteen my Mum has been a type 1 diabetic. She is now in her late 70s and thankfully; hasn’t had the complications that so many diabetics get.

For most of her life, she has been on insulin. I remember the little glass bottles in the fridge, her tapping the syringe to get rid of air bubbles or disappearing before we had a meal if we went out.

Technology has moved on. Diabetics now have access to insulin pens and patches linked to phone apps to manage their disease and make their lives less disrupted. But some people, like my Mum, can’t deal with that. They have spent their lives doing something one way; change is difficult, nee impossible for some. She did try the new insulin pens, but her body was so used to the old insulin that it just didn’t work for her so they put her back on the type her body knew well.

Remember Planet Hollywood? After taking Mum and Dad to see a show in the West End, I took them to a meal there. They wanted to see all the movie memorabilia there and had been talking about it for ages. We arrived on time, and it was packed. Mum disappeared to do her injection once we had ordered.

We waited. And waited. We asked how long the food would be. The waitress said any minute. 45 minutes later, no food had turned up.

By now, Mum's blood sugar had fallen and she was starting to have a hypo. An hour passed, Mum was sweating, her speech was slurred, and her eyes were unfocused and far away. After trying to hurry up the serving staff numerous times, I got the manager. He did not look happy with the state Mum was in and asked if we wanted to leave. I was furious. I made my way through the bustling restaurant to a payphone (it was that long ago) to call a hospital. Left unchecked, she would have fallen into a coma and could have died.

But then, just then, the food turned up. We had to feed her; she looked like she was on drugs. But after a while, she came around. She was confused and didn't know where she was. She was drenched in sweat. It was frightening.

The point of this is that not eating or not having the right dose of insulin is dangerous.

Times change and she now has two different bottles which she has to mix. Isoprene and neutral.

Remember, she is in her late 70s. When you get older your eyesight isn’t what it used to be.

These are the bottles:

These bottles are small. Really small. 

To take the image, I had to get really close. Which is why they are a bit blurred.

The writing is small.
Really small.
It’s sadly a trend in design that has been around far too long.
It’s something that annoys us.

Now imagine how those bottles would look if your eyesight wasn’t great.

Which bottle is which now?

  • At a glance, they look the same. 
  • The type wraps around the bottle, so you can’t see everything in one go.
  • The colour coding highlights the name, not the differentiator: Neutral or Isoprene.
  • The lids are the same colour, the liquid is the same colour, and the labels are the same colour. 
  • The most prominent part of the label is the blue band carrying the branding, which to the user is the least important part of the label.

They would be very easy to muddle up.

A while ago, my mum was having a fair amount of hypos. Sometimes more than 1 a day. That’s a LOT. 

I wondered if it could be due to her mixing up the bottles and amounts. Since highlighting this issue, she’s been more careful and she’s had a lot less of them.

In closing

We really can do better than this. The designs should be tested on their target markets to ensure that whoever uses them can use them properly.

This goes for all medicines (we will be talking more about this in later blog posts as there is much that can be done to improve their naming and branding).

We think all medicines should have 'the blurred test'. All concepts should be presented like this and tested on real people in the real world. Designers should look at the reactions of people, not just what they say. If you ask ‘Can you read this?’ and they say ‘Yes’, but they are squinting, there is a problem.

Much is written about design trends or how beautiful something is.

But at its heart, design is about solving a problem

 …you can’t solve a problem until you know what that problem is.

 Make medicines clearer by design.

 Don’t make them an eye test.


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