Tuesday, March 28, 2017

ClearRx: Better Bottle

Every pharmacy has the standard pill bottle: orange with the little white cap on the top. Well, there is a problem with them. They are hard to read and impossible to distinguish from each other. My medicine cabinet at home has about 8 medicine bottles; all of them look the same and the tiny little print does not help either.

This problem is not uncommon. In fact, about five hundred thousand individuals worldwide due to misread drug instructions.  One individual that it especially impacted was a design student named Deborah Adler.  She was inspired to change the look of the pill bottle when her grandmother accidently took her grandfather’s medicine by accident because they shared the same initials H Adler and all the pill bottles were almost identical.  Her solution?  ClearRx. 

The first thing that you notice on the standard pill bottle is the pharmacy name; it is big and bold at the top of the bottle.  However, the drug information and the name of the user is in smaller print that is wrapped around the bottle.  In addition, any warnings are placed in a different orientation than the rest of the writing on the bottle with hard to read labels due to the red and black color combination. This bottle is not user friendly. It is hard to read and the information is not clear, so it is easy to understand why medication mix ups are common.

ClearRx makes the pill bottles user friendly. Instead of the standard cylindrical shape, it has two flat faces and the important information is highlighted by the font size and where it is placed on the bottle. The flat faces make it so that information is easy to read and that you can view the information from just opening up your medicine cabinet instead of taking out the bottle and having to turn it in order to search for the information. In addition, the first thing you notice on the bottle is the medication name that is in big, bold lettering at the top of the bottle. Following the drug name is all of the drug information that is labeled under it. In the back of the bottle, all of the precautions are labeled clearly with helpful pictures that aid the user. Finally, around the neck of each bottle, there is a different color ring that is specific to each user. It helps the user distinguish their medication from other family members.

So, how did a visual arts student come up with this innovative design? Growing up in a house full of doctors, Adler knew that she did not want to be a doctor. In fact, she wanted nothing to do with the medical field.  She decided to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts instead. In her last year of school, she had to come up with a final design project. Initially, she wanted to come up with a project based on linking cultures. However she decided not to pursue that project because “[she] wanted to do something that had more meaning, something that could make a difference in people’s lives.” Then she heard about her grandma’s accident and “[she felt] concerned for the safety of [her] grandparents. But as a designer, [she] saw a problem that needed to be solved”. She created many prototypes, such as creating a bottle that was completely rectangular. However, despite her liking the look, she believe it was too impractical and decided on the triangular shape instead. When she was organizing how the label was to be printed she states in an interview that, “people want to know the name of the drug first, then how they should take it. But it’s never presented that way.” This observation allowed her how the drug label should be organized.

 Her design was bought by Target Pharmacy in 2005. However, due to the recent acquisition of Target Pharmacy by CVS, the bottles are no longer used there. But recently, there have been many petitions circulating calling for CVS to bring back the ClearRx bottles and some customers are actually scouring their trash bags looking for these pill bottles. For now they are gone, but I am sure not for long.

Her process connects to the idea of motivation. She felt motivated to complete this project because felt mainly intrinsically motivated. She wanted to make to change the pill bottle design so that people like her grandmother could take their medications safely.  She wanted to make a difference, as mentioned above, and she did. In addition, as mentioned in lecture, the first step in creativity is finding the problem. The standard orange pill bottles were used since the 1950’s and they haven’t changed since. It took Adler’s art background and her grandmother’s accident for this new product to emerge. It really does show how art and science can come together to create something that can benefit all.  



  1. While I applaud Adler for solving a very real issue, I am not sure that she is someone I would consider a Creative based solely on this one product. This seems more of a practical solution than a truly innovative new product. For years, people have found their own ways of differentiating their pill bottles, whether it be using nail polish to paint the lids, pill organizers with each day of the week, or applying homemade labels with more clear instructions. Obviously, Ms. Adler's creations have positively impacted many lives, but such a simple redesign does not strike me as true creativity.

  2. This is fascinating. I wonder if we will see more design students working in the field of medicine? This is one of those situations where there is a clear need for design centered around the patient experience. I do hope there is more innovation in regards to preventing intake of the wrong medication. This sounds like one small step in a new frontier of design.

  3. I really like this idea. I think that, as you said, a lot of the time finding the problem is the first step to creativity. People just get so used to seeing something a certain way, and that makes it hard to think outside the box and even recognize that something needs to be changed. This is a great idea and could help many people who have trouble seeing or picking out the important information on pill bottles. Patient experience is becoming more and more of a priority in the field of medicine and there is a lot of opportunity to change small things like this that have a big impact. I wonder if she collaborated with people from other fields, such as programmers, to make her design user friendly with pre-existing medical records?

  4. After reading this article, I had to find out – WHY did CVS stop using the bottles after acquisition?! Apparently, CVS said it stopped using Target’s bottles “because it’s more efficient to use the same bottles at all locations.” However, if there is clearly a consumer desire for this improved bottle, why won’t they apply the design to all locations? “In an interview with the Associated Press, a CVS spokeswoman said the company is working on designing a new system for dispensing prescriptions and helping people stay on their medications.” If they are working on a new design, why not use the one that they already have, especially since it is clearly desired by costumers? Since a representative of Target announced that the ClearRx patents were included in the acquisition, I’m rather surprised that they aren’t in use.

    I do think Adler is a creative, a “little C” creative, but a creative nonetheless. I noticed that on her website, AdlerDesigns, she presents other project she is working on. Sure you can print your own label or distinguish pill bottles on your own, but that requires work. Creative solutions to problems generally decrease work and improve efficiency, as we see here.


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