A New Hero In Human-Centric Design
A New Hero In Human-Centric Design

Compliance and minimizing pill burden have rankled physicians and pharma companies for as long as I’ve been talking to doctors, patients and brand teams. That is to say, it’s a big problem, and one the industry continues to struggle with.

At the same time, we see the ever-accelerating release of apps, ‘smart’ technologies and online support tools. It’s become a dash to provide ‘something’ in the digital and mobile space, but too often the urgency to be at the digital technology table overshadows careful and close consideration of how tools will actually effect positive change for patients, and create opportunities for brands. It’s pretty much been carts before horses so far.

All of this spent effort and treasure for ‘apps and technologies of the moment’ with low overall ROI and patient benefit make a great case for a cultural and patient-centric approach to innovation and design at the earliest stage to ground such strategies in real human experience.

With that in mind, consider the Hero medication dispenser as an example of semiotically sublime design and human-centricity. It represents a gold-standard roll out of ‘beyond the pill’ thinking. It reminds us about how to activate meaningful change in patients’ lives and personal journeys with chronic disease through sharp and humanized application of relatively simple technology.

It inserts itself alongside the proliferation of single-serve coffee machines, and more importantly, ‘connected’ technologies in the kitchen (I’m waiting patiently for my own internet connected fridge to tell me I’m running low on Beemster). The colonization of the kitchen by these technologies is re-framing this central and intimate place in patients’ and consumers’ homes. The Hero dispenser presents itself as just another piece of technology in our kitchens – the mission control of our day starts and dinner times. It looks like just another a pod coffee maker or bean grinder, but with the slick and ergonomic aesthetic of an Apple device.

We can learn a lot from Hero.

It integrates itself rather seamlessly into your existing daily rituals and routines. It’s programmed to dispense multiple medications at multiple day parts—that rushed morning, or that evening meal, for example—and activates against positive visual, auditory and other semiotic cues. Conspicuously, it’s semiotically linked itself to the beloved morning cup of Joe. As co-founder Kut Akdogan put it in talking to TechCrunch:

“I want to go get that cup of coffee, I look forward to that. I wake up and get to press that button and it whirrs — I feel success. That sort of magic was entirely missing from the medical experience.”1

While certainly not perfect (counter space is still prized real-estate in any home, and although it confirms the patient has removed the pills from the dispenser, it can’t yet ensure they’re ingested), it’s this sort of disruptive thinking and design that’s called for in tackling long intractable issues like compliance and pill maintenance.

Hero pairs smartly with mobile devices, allowing you to track prescriptions, offering reminders to renew, and providing caregivers with notification if meds are missed – a particularly compelling proposition for those with cognitive impairments and in paediatric use. It even sends alerts to notify of power loss so you have a heads-up for those who may have missed a dosing alert.

This matters. All too often, devices and brands staple ‘connectivity’ and online extensions to add a patina of tech novelty that’s more gimmick than value-add. There’s a brilliant Twitter feed devoted to exactly this phenomenon – @internetofshit, speaking truth to the emperor’s new clothes of too many connected gadgets that fail to make a case for their premium pricing and real-world utility. (Though I’d still like my fridge to remind me that Beemster is running low.)

If you’re like me, there’s at least a part of you that’s wondering about privacy issues right now. The design—and ‘Hero’ name, of course— present a soft and unimposing face to the consumer, signalling a strong supporter of their own hero’s journey in facing chronic disease. Rather than cynically thinking this is subversive, I see it as an intuitive and soothing design for what has historically been a frustrating and clumsy manual experience. Users can control who has access to their regimen, and can track it themselves.
But this isn’t an ad for Hero.

Bottom line, what can pharma strategists and brand leaders learn from such innovation, and how can Fresh Squeezed Ideas bring that to life? Here are just a few modest but clear lessons to start a dialogue:

Semiotic Alignment
Hero is firing on all semiotic cylinders. Visual, auditory and phonetic, it’s giving off all the right signals for success in its role and place in patients’ homes and lives.

Fitting Not Forcing
Hero’s design fits intuitively and naturally into the kitchen as a hub at key dosing day parts. It doesn’t try to establish fresh habits with steep learning curves, but rather activates alongside existing and deeply entrenched ones.

Justified Connectivity
Not just gimmick or stapled on feature, its ability to connect with the mobile devices of patients and caregivers makes a compelling case for a device that meaningfully changes their relationship with medications in a transformative way.

These three facets alone make it so much more than a $300 pillbox with a motor. That’s great innovation, design, and human-centric branding.

Activating user-centered innovation, and aligning strategy to semiotic and cultural forces shaping patient behaviour is Fresh Squeezed Ideas’ stock and trade. Get in touch to find out how our team can be an innovation and branding hero for your own team.


[1] Ha, Anthony. ” Hero unveils a new home gadget to help you track and dispense pills” TechCrunch. TechCrunch, 7 March 2016. Web. 29 March 2016.