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Best Practices for Graphic Designers, Color Works by John Cantwell, Eddie Opara

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Graphic illustration showing
the six available color-coded rings,
which function as personalized tags
making the identification of the drugs
faster and easier.
Saving Lives
with Color
Deborah Adler
As a graduate MFA student at New York’s School of
Visual Arts in 2000, graphic designer Deborah Adler
was taught to ask questions about design. At one point
during her time at SVA, Adlers grandmother mis-
takenly took a dose of her husband’s heart medication
instead of the prescription for her own ailment, due
to the poor labeling on the pill bottle.
fig. 001
70 Color Works Awareness Saving Lives with Color
2.5
Initial SafeRx design by Deborah
Adler for Target. Note the use of color
to clearly indicate the bottle’s contents,
intended user, and proper dosage.
Thankfully not fatal, the accident motivated Adler to ask, “Is there a
better way to store and distribute medicine?”
Adler began answering the question by identifying problems with the
design of prescription medication bottles, which, other than the child-
safety cap added in the 1970s, had not changed since the bottles were
introduced after World War II. She discovered that the bottles did not
have a consistent label style; the information hierarchy was confusing;
logos for the drugstores were given more focus than patient information;
and the type was small and therefore not universally readable, especially
for the elderly. This was also true of the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration—required information sheets included with each pre-
scription. The printing quality and color distortion of the bottles were
also poor, further affecting readability.
One of Adler’s main concerns with the existing design was the prescrip-
tion labels’ inconsistencies and poor color combinations. The color of
the warning stickers, such as the “take with food” sticker, varied widely
among drug companies. Furthermore, the color contrast for good
readability was weak—orange stickers were used on orange bottles or
black type was used on a dark blue sticker. The inconsistency and hard-
to-read labels posed a great risk to users, like Adler’s grandmother and
the 60 percent of Americans who at one time or another have taken
medication intended for someone else. Something had to be done.
Adler’s redesign, which she named SafeRx, resolved many of these
issues: She made labels easier to read by prioritizing patient and drug
information (instead of information about the drug company), stan-
dardized warning information, and redesigned the warning icons. But
most important, she created a color-coding system for the bottles,
placing a clear and simple colored bar across the top of the medication
label. The bar contrasted clearly and strongly with the prescription’s
black type. Also, the color differentiation among the bars allowed each
member of a family to identify which drugs were his or her own. Adler
believed that personalizing via color was the fastest and easiest way to
identify the medical information.
To turn her prototype into a reality, Adler brought her design to phar-
maceutical companies as well as the FDA. But she ultimately collaborated
with Target, a company that not only takes design seriously, but also
raises design awareness among the masses. After bringing Adler
onboard, Target hired Klaus Rosburg of Sonic, a design studio special-
izing in the development of consumer electronics, appliances, medical
equipment, and structural packaging, to further flesh out the project.
With Rosburg and Adler, Target renamed the product ClearRx and added
a color-coded identification ring that goes around the rim of the bottle,
just under the lid. Available in six colors, this enhancement ups the
personalization factor even more. Through heavy marketing of the bottle
and labels, Target ensured that the public fully embraced the new design.
In recognition of the clarity and ingenuity of ClearRx, the Industrial
Designers Society of America gave Adler and Rosburg its Design of the
6.3
2.1
fig. 002

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