I remember reading a few years ago about how everything was becoming a commodity. Several articles proclaimed that all physical products are or will be, sometime in the not so distant future, made so cheaply and have such wide distribution, that everyone, everywhere will have access to everything, and at reasonable cost. At the time I read this it seemed to make sense, but it in my mind, it was still going to be some time before this would become a reality.
Well today, as I boarded my flight to Calgary, I picked up a copy of the National Post and was confronted with the ‘hard to miss’ article describing how Pfizer’s marque drug Viagra, was going to be the first in a foray of major branded drug companies to market and sell their products through the internet. Imagine, you can now go online and buy this little blue pill with just a couple of clicks and have it delivered to your door, free from all curious onlookers. This is innovation! This is the beginning of a major shift in how we purchase and receive certain treatments.
As a designer, I am struck by the possibilities that innovation can bring to the drug delivery industry. Not just in the mechanism for purchasing and taking delivery of prescription medicine, but also how highly useful devices can be developed to help patients administer more effectively and accurately their medication. There’s a real benefit to be had, both to the patient and also to drug manufacturers who take the time and effort to create well thought out delivery systems.
For the patient, the benefit lies in the ability of a designer to thoroughly understand how and why people take medication. How a medicine can be delivered effectively in the right dosage, at the right time, in the most effective way. It’s easy to imagine the benefits to aging patients who have trouble taking their medication in the intended way in the proper dosages.
For the drug manufacturer, the benefits are several. Correct dosages taken at the right time, means greater efficacy which converts into enhanced brand equity. Proper dosages also means less risk to the patient which translates into less legal and financial risk for the manufacturer. Extending the commercial life of aging or about to die drug formulation patents, can also extend/maintain significant cash flows. Just think about it – find a way to more effectively administer a given drug using a unique device that is customized for the delivery of a specific drug and voila, you’ve breathed new life into a cash flow for another 20 years!
The common, golden thread in all of this is innovation. Expertise and insight is required to take a commodity, a commonly used and accepted product, and add value to it in such a way as to create a new, compelling value proposition that excites and engages existing and new customers. But innovation for the sake of innovation is useless. Novel products have no value in and of themselves. Only those products that increase efficacy and the quality and pleasure of a given experience have real value.
So where is a company that manufactures and sells a commodity product to start? I believe the ideal people to address this need are skilled and experienced Industrial Designers. Those who are trained and have a background in researching how people use existing products, identifying ways in which the end user experience can be enhanced and even radically changed through new use models. These are the folks who map out ‘use scenarios’ and ‘work flows’. IDs are the ones that need to be tasked (before engineering begins its work) with understanding and conceptualizing new ways to perform an old procedure. This is where real, differentiating and meaningful value is created; intellectual property that benefits both the patient and the drug manufacturer.
If you have a medical device, a medication, a drug or even a therapy that is starting to face the end of its commercial life, I would suggest you consider investigating working with a product development firm that has a team of experienced Industrial Designers and see if they can take your commodity and transform it into a new and successful product.