A plea for inclusivity

A plea for inclusivity

Steve Gibbons discusses the innovations in healthcare and pharmaceutical packaging design…


It’s exhausting to be told that the winds of change are sweeping about us at an ever-increasing rate. My Canute-like reluctance to accept the inevitability of all this change doesn’t stop it from happening, but I’m learning to embrace change in a way that all my younger work colleagues seem to unquestioningly accept.


So what are the megatrends that follow from all this change, and which are the most relevant for healthcare and pharmaceutical brands?


There are half a dozen trends that will have a significant impact. These include the ever-increasing urbanisation of the global population, the re-emergence of the cross-generational family, a growing desire to use naturally derived remedies, a desire for products and services that are individually personalised, the move to self-medication, and finally, the ‘ageing population’. 


It’s probably evident from my opening paragraph that from personal experience I can relate most to the ageing population. I’d like to focus on the implications this has on the design of packaging – not only from a graphic and structural point of view, but also from a wider holistic perspective that considers how pharmaceutical manufacturers’ products get to their consumers. 


With support from bodies like the Helen Hamlyn Institute at the RCA in London, designers are encouraged to be more inclusive in their design thinking. More of this needs to find its way into the healthcare and pharmaceutical packaging industry. ¬When designed properly, products can better demonstrate their empathy with consumers, ultimately encouraging brand preference and loyalty.


The healthcare and pharmaceutical industry, and the designers and packaging technologists who support it, could do much more to make their designs inclusive to an older population. This doesn’t mean it will exclude a younger audience. For example, a piece of packaging designed to better enable a pair of arthritic hands to open it can also be more easily opened by anyone of any age. Or an instruction label or patient information leaflet set in a larger type size is easier to read for both the elderly and long-sighted 25 year olds.


Of course it’s a difficult balance – on the one hand there’s clearly a need to make packaging more accessible to the elderly, but on the other hand there will always be concerns about children mistakenly taking medications not intended for them. However, I recently heard about a grandmother that had to ask her young granddaughter to open her child-proof pharmaceutical packaging. If this wasn’t so serious the irony would be laughable.


There are brands that are taking a more empathetic approach to the entire lifecycle and distribution of healthcare and pharmaceutical packaging. ‘Pill Pack’ is a brilliant pharmacy solution which mitigates against a number of acute issues facing an ageing population. Firstly, taking a complex and changing cocktail of drugs at different times of day, whether self-administered or administered by a care worker. Secondly, an (in)ability to make a trip to the local pharmacy. And thirdly, the massive issue of non-compliance, where patients don’t take the correct medicines when they should, or they don’t follow their course of medication properly. The World Health Organization estimates that this last issue accounts for approximately half of all drugs prescribed. That astonishing statistic means that half the £10 billion spent by the NHS on branded drugs is potentially wasted. ‘Pill Pack’ is a US-based pharmacy solution that coordinates all the pills required for a single session into sealed paper pouches. The pouches are clearly dated and timed to show when the drugs should be taken. It’s delivered direct to the patient’s home as a boxed roll every fortnight. The idea of a multi-pill pack isn’t unique, but the link up to a pharmacy offer is. It’s clear to me that this re-engineering of the route to market will have a significant impact, especially in the Rx market.


‘Help’ is the US pharma start-up that also adopts an empathetic approach. It claims to be “a new type of drug company – a drug company that promises you less.” It does this in a beguilingly simple manner, with product names like ‘Help, I can’t sleep’ or ‘Help, I’ve got a headache.’ What this does is turn on its head the usual way that pharma companies talk with their consumers. Traditionally, the ‘chemist’ talks (down) to the layman in a coded language that isn’t understood. One could easily believe that the pharma industry is second only to lawyers in developing an arcane language that only they can understand.


Another company adopting a similarly empathetic approach is the German homeopathic company DHU, which has taken a holistic approach to the marketing of its products. It’s pulled an entire portfolio of what had previously been a very disparate range of products with differing names under one umbrella brand name – Mama Natura. It’s the world’s first global remedies brand aimed at the children’s segment, and draws on the universality of a mother’s desire to nurture her child. Its overall approach, language, and visual cues are entirely empathetic to mums and their kids. When you think about the most appropriate product to give your child, which name best resonates with you – ‘Mama Natura’ or ‘Oscillococcinum’ (product name of one of Mama Natura’s principal competitors so typical of the category)?


It’s no coincidence that Help and Mama Natura were both big winners at last month’s DBA Design Effectiveness Awards – the ‘Oscars’ of the awards world that recognises the proven commercial effectiveness of design. But you’ve probably spotted that neither of these brands are specifically developed for an ageing population, although given the trend towards grandparents taking on responsibility for childcare, Mama Natura may argue it’s a contender. But the point is both are inclusive. And actually an older age group doesn’t want brands and products developed especially for them. What they want are brands that don’t exclude them. Both of these brands in their overall approach do exactly this.


There aren’t any simple answers to the accessibility of healthcare and pharmaceutical packaging for the elderly, given the complexity of the issue. But child-resistant packaging aside, the idea of focusing on inclusive design solutions that don’t exclude the needs of any specific audience – including of course the elderly – has to be the way forward. 



Stephanie Cornwall
Stephanie Cornwall