Creating a consistent brand experience
Over the past few years, many pharma companies have chosen to deliver their therapies through ‘off-the-shelf’ platform devices rather than developing their own technology from the ground up. This approach offers huge savings in development costs, timescales, and can reduce risk dramatically; but we are often asked the same questions about what we can do to improve the products.
How can we help make the product stand out from other brands who may be using the same platform? How can we make it feel like it’s from the same family as other products within our brand? How can we ensure we deliver a premium brand experience when we are so restricted in what we can change?
As medical device designers, we understand that achieving a coherent experience across a range of different devices can seem challenging. This can seem especially difficult when working with previously developed platform products which may have been developed separately, often years apart, by different device companies. It’s a challenge we’ve faced many times, but by understanding the constraints and working creatively within them, you’d be surprised at what can be achieved.
Our brief was to create a family of three inhalers: a dry-powder inhaler (DPI), pressurised metered-dose inhaler (pMDI) and a unit dose capsule inhaler.
The devices needed to be distinctive, iconic and stand out from current devices in the market, whilst not changing the existing device architecture or core technologies of three approved inhaler platforms.
The products needed to demonstrate that the licensing company understood the emotional and practical needs of its customers, by creating inhalers that felt personal and approachable, and would fit with its users’ lifestyles.
At an early stage, we needed to understand the attributes of the user experience that were hoped to be achieved through the products: What is the company trying to communicate about itself and the therapy that its product provides? How does it want its product to be perceived compared to competing devices? What does it want its customers to feel when interacting with its products? What are the core brand values?
To help build up a clear understanding of the intentions for the product, we reviewed brand guidelines and other assets that may drive the brand image, such as websites, corporate literature and existing products or services. Knowing the parameters helps to ensure that we work in line with any other design programmes that may be underway.
Once the key attributes of the experience were understood, we created visual language boards to help everyone have a clear shared vision. Each board explores different aesthetics, values and feelings through the careful use of form, colour, materials and finishes.
Exploring the aesthetic styles which meet the brief
We evolved a range of solutions, from minor surface changes to more radical component modifications, to optimise every possible interaction. We looked to implement common signature details, brand colours and surface treatments across the three platform products to make them instantly recognisable as part of a family of products.
We not only attempted to tie the products together visually, but looked for opportunities to enhance usability, aid grip and ergonomics (by improving the readability of dose numbers, for example) across the product family.
A DPI concept
Product packaging was another opportunity where we could optimise the user experience. For many users, packaging is the first physical touch point they might encounter with a new therapy, therefore it’s a great opportunity to create consistency across various other elements of the system.
In addition to the look and feel of the packaging, we considered the layout and unboxing experience, all whilst fitting within the tight regulatory guidance on packaging and labelling. We questioned things like: How is the critical information presented? Can we improve the ease of opening? Can we incorporate instructional information in a format that is easier to digest?
By making incremental improvements, we moved closer to a design which met all aspects of the brief, staying within regulatory boundaries, reducing impact on cost of goods, and enhancing the user experience.
For this family of inhalers, we created a strong, distinctive brand identity which was harmonious across the full range of products. The design sees each of the individual products featuring a signature subtle ribbed texture and a bold two-tone colour palette – shown in black and white – but easily translated into brand-linked colours or regulatory influenced colour schemes.
The soft organic forms, cut with clean geometric lines, create an honest visual language which focuses on functionality and resists the temptation to ‘dress up’ the product.
The inhaler product family
Unit dose capsule inhaler with example packaging
The two-tone colourway and linear rib detail are also used in the product packaging, helping to further tie together the various elements of the system. Consideration has been given to the layout and robustness of the pack, ensuring each element is presented in a logical order and the pack can survive its intended lifestyle.
Ribbed texture detail shown on the DPI
Unit dose capsule inhaler ready for use
The tactile texture makes the devices easy to grip, whilst providing a recognisable signature detail which can be easily applied across the various different devices to give a family feel. The softened forms provide a less ‘clinical’ feel while remaining ‘familiar’ to other consumer products the user may interact with.
This shows us what is possible within the constraints of a platform product development programme and working creatively within it. As designers, we should think beyond the physical product as it’s only one element of the complex brand experience. Every touch point can be used to influence a consumer’s trust with a brand, and building consistency throughout the experience is a key part of this. Understanding these considerations help us to inform, engage with, and ultimately, create a positive experience for the user.