Health Care Meets… Package Design

My name is Chris Sebastian. I graduated from Notre Dame in 2007 with a degree in Graphic Design. After a few years working as a designer, I returned to school to pursue medicine. I’m currently a 3rd-year medical student in Texas who is always looking for opportunities to integrate design & medicine.

The design studio Design by St addressed unsustainable fishing with a package design that helps consumers make educated choices. I was impressed by their solution. I believe a similar design approach can enhance communication and education in health care.

Why is this design successful?

The design is visually engaging. It uses an existing color code to describe the sustainability of the fish being sold: green means go, yellow means slow, and red means stop. The package is thoughtfully organized — the layout accommodates a lot of information without appearing cluttered. It is deceptively simple, which is itself no simple task.

The design uses clear language. The package communicates with two different tools: words and graphics. The copy is concise and direct. It speaks to the audience without insulting or confusing readers. It is valuable not because it is blunt but because it is clear and appropriate for the situation. The graphics simplify complex layers of information, facilitating the learning process.

The design empowers consumers. The package is itself an educational tool. Consumers learn where/how the fish was caught, if the fish is endangered, alternative fish options, ideal seasons for consumption, and other facts to inform their decision. Educated consumers have a better understanding of the context of actions and where events fit into a complex narrative.

What can health care learn from package design?

In 2005, Deborah Adler redesigned prescription pill bottles for Target. Adler’s redesign simplified complex information and applied a hierarchy to prioritize information for patients. I see additional areas in health care that could benefit from an enhanced user experience — for starters, the print and digital design of forms, pamphlets, and electronic health records.

Organize information such that it may be digested well. Is the presentation built with an understanding of the ways people process information? Like the color-coding in the fish packaging above, is the learning process made more intuitive by using familiar systems?

Communicate information clearly. Are we meeting our patients on their level? Are we aware of factors that may influence how well a patient receives information—language, size of print, auditory/visual/tactile considerations?

An educated patient is an empowered patient. Are we evaluating the patient in the context of his or her life? Have we discussed the benefits, risks, and alternatives of a decision? Have we identified and addressed the most important questions a patient has?

An experience that engages and empowers users and communicates clearly is no longer the exception — it is becoming the rule as awareness of the impact of design grows.

Thanks for reading! 
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