When will pharma and other healthcare companies start paying attention to design? This question was brought to my attention by Amy Tenderich, who writes the Diabetes Mine blog. The question was inspired by the Exubera fiasco, in which Pfizer arguably managed to kill off a $1 billion franchise by not paying attention to product design. Put simply, the company launched its inhalable insulin franchise with a device that looks like a marijuana bong, is bulky, makes it difficult for users to calculate their doses. The idea for the product—an insulin delivery device that doesn’t require needles—is excellent. It’s just that the product looks so uncool that no one wants to learn how to use it.
So Amy has written an open letter to Steve Jobs, asking him to assign a design team to address medical contraptions—which so often are sold in grey industrial plastic or that awful pink flesh color.
A couple of companies have made some positive moves in medical design. Target famously redesigned its pill bottles so that they make sense. And GSK’s launch of diet drug Alli is heavy on the packaging collateral.
My suggestion—Jobs should start with hearing aids. Humans already wear an enormous amount of well designed stuff around their ears—headbands, spectacles, jewelry—there’s no reason a hearing aid needs to look so lousy. Perhaps the key is to start with a design that draws attention to itself, the same way mirrored shades draw attention to a person’s eyes.
If you know of a company launching a drug or medical device that features a great design element, let me know at email@example.com. I'd love to write about it.