Maribeth Kradel-Weitzel once heard someone say, “Bad graphic design never killed anybody”—a thought she calls a “grave misconception” about the role designers play in society.
“Imagine if you couldn’t read your medication instructions, didn’t understand a pill’s highly addictive properties or didn’t feel inspired to take a lifesaving drug,” said Kradel-Weitzel, associate professor of graphic design communication at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University). “Graphic design is powerful, and yes, it can even save lives.”
With this in mind, Kradel-Weitzel spearheaded a unique project to design pharmaceutical packaging for the elderly population as part of her elective course in package design this semester. Ten seniors and two juniors each selected a drug commonly taken by senior citizens (for example, painkillers, anti-nausea medication and anti-depressants) and created a rebranded version of that packaging, including a promotional welcome package for first-time users.
Details for the project first developed when Kradel-Weitzel met with Kim Mollo, assistant professor of occupational therapy (OT) at Jefferson’s Center City campus, earlier this year. Mollo spent 15 years in graphic design before becoming an OT in 2006 and shared Kradel-Weitzel’s dedication to design thinking.
The two then brought in several colleagues to refine the project, present content or participate in critiques, including Center City’s Tracey Vause-Earland, associate professor of OT, and Audrey Zapletal, assistant professor of OT, and East Falls’ Mike Avery, adjunct professor of industrial design, and Monique Chabot, assistant professor of OT.
To further inform the students’ work, a group of senior citizens from nearby East Falls Village visited the class for some preliminary user testing and again during the final presentations in Hayward Hall on Nov. 30.
“The students found it incredibly valuable and often surprising to see how senior citizens reacted to their prototypes,” Kradel-Weitzel said. “They no longer had to guess if their typography was large enough or had enough color contrast, if their language was clear, if arthritic hands could manipulate the structures, and if their concept was desirable and provided the intended value. User testing gave them clarity on all of those issues.”
Based on user feedback, senior Amy Bachhuber included a new easier-to-open bottle and changed the color from blue to green. “They were all wonderful people and gave constructive and helpful advice,” she said. “It’s much more effective than making assumptions about what our target audience would think.”
Senior Liza Marino also benefited from her time working with the older adults, saying it helped to find pain points to fix—increasing the text size, avoiding colors like yellow and making items simpler to grab and open.
“Their feedback raised our package designs to cater to that population more effectively,” she said.
Senior citizen Evelyn Chrol, an art major in college, was among the handful of testers who spent time carefully flipping, twisting and examining all the projects. She said she was impressed with how the students took their feedback to heart and the improvements they made from the initial presentations several weeks ago to the final review.
“They’re more compact, logical and easier to read,” Chrol remarked.
Mollo said she couldn’t be happier with how the project went, noting “it’s just the beginning” of more collaborations that will result from the combination of Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University.
“It really has been an amazing, evolving, organic process,” she said. “It blossomed from a few impromptu meetings and interested faculty mutually reaching out across campuses to help each other to promote novel interdisciplinary educational experiences for our students.”
“This project is a great example of the new possibilities for richer, more engaging learning opportunities made possible by the merger,” Kradel-Weitzel added. “At a high level, practitioners of medicine and designers both have a critical commonality—the desire to improve the lives of people. It seems so natural that we would work together beautifully.”