Package Design For Drugs Does Matter


The packaging of drugs for humans seems to be one of the fields of design and research that are being neglected. Also, there are crucial differences between Europe and the U.S. with respect to drug packaging, some of which I would like to point out in this post:

While healthcare in the U.S. is a topic of private economic matters and insurances, it is a matter of the government in most European countries. This influences how drugs are seen by the public. Drug stores in U.S. offer a wide variety of pharmaceuticals, that would be running as Rx in Europe, plus you can also get chewing gum and Diet Coke. In Europe, pharmacies mostly sell OTC and Rx medications. In the U.S. OTC products are heavily market from subway banners to TV channels. In Europe drug marketing is much more regulated. Drug packaging in Europe is also very traditional, there are hardly any flashy or cheesy “Extra Strength” (see Tylenol below) designs. The reason for this lack of juicy marketing messages in Europe is simple: European packages target doctors while most U.S. packages target patients. Some examples…

That’s how Aspirin looks in Europe:

Image courtesy of

And that’s how Aspirin looks in the U.S.:

Copyright by
You can decide for yourself which package you prefer. Apart from the pure aesthetic point of view, there is also a “usability” aspect to package design. 60% of Americans don’t take their medications correctly and misleading package and leaflet designs contribute to the patients’ confusion. Some very smart people working at Deborah Adler Design, a NYC-based design firm, made up their minds how to make drug packages more comprehensible and more beautiful. They redesigned Target’s Rx drug packaging:

This is what Target’s Rx meds looked like before Deborah Adler’s involvement:

Image courtesy of Target

And here is how Deborah Adler imagined a new way of how these drugs should (and eventually were) designed and packaged.

Image courtesy of Deborah Adler Design

I think even for the untrained eye, it is obvious that the latter is simply better. It’s not only more beautiful, but also more comprehensible and straight forward. I am pretty sure patients would be less likely to unwittingly swallow their spouse’s medication. The substance, the dosage, the side effects – everything becomes clearer. Especially when you consider that the typical drug consumer in western society is not the web-savvy 25year old college girl, but it’s your 65 year old, far-sighted neighbor without a college degree.

Another amazing example of how simple and intelligent package design can be: a New York company called “Help, i need Help“, run by Richard Fine has stripped down their package designs to the underwear. Their approach is very different from what our eyes are used to. To make this short and visual, as this is the topic of this post, I’ve compiled a little visual comparison of widely known Tylenol and the exact same product with a different packaging coming from Help, I need Help.

There are so many thoughts I want (and will) share with you on that topic, for the moment I’d like you to sit back and take a minute to think about the packaging of medical drugs. I figure that really only a minority of professionals ever thinking about this aspect and therefore little research and development is happening in this field. It’s crucial and it can make medicine a lot safer and more beautiful. And I reckon that medicine needs both.



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