Let’s talk about a drier side of information design: medication packaging and labeling. Boring? Perhaps. Important? Absolutely. This is the kind of information design that’s so ingrained into our lives that we hardly notice it anymore; we’re so accustomed to the format of warning and dosage labels that we don’t really give them a second thought. In the age of striking infographics and flashy interactive information design, sometimes it can be hard to remember that sometimes information design doesn’t need a dose of creativity – sometimes it has to be completely objective for the sake of coherence. Sure, dosage instructions could probably be represented visually, and an iconographic set of symbols could probably be created to represent side effects of drugs, but I would argue that wouldn’t serve the purpose of the drug fact panel as well. Medicine might be one of the places where it is inherently better to tell instead of show – for legal reasons as much as reasons for coherence. In this instance, telling the information using words instead of showing it through symbols leaves no room for misinterpretation or subjectivity – which is obviously critical when some drugs can have life or death implications. I’m not arguing that symbols couldn’t be used in addition to the written instructions, or that the drug fact panels are perfectly designed (I would add a better sense of hierarchy – do the inactive ingredients really deserve as much visual weight as the dosing instructions, for example?), but I am certainly arguing that this is an instance not of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it,’ but of ‘don’t try to fix it only for the sake of visual aesthetic,’ something that may be difficult for designers to swallow.
In my own life and interaction with medication packaging/labeling, I hadn’t thought much about this side of information design until I switched pharmacies and was given my birth control in new packaging. Instead of receiving a pack of pills that was arranged in rows resembling a calendar, I received a circular case that had a dial that you spin each day to dispense that day’s pill out of a single whole in the back. It’s really nothing remarkable, but I’ve found that it adds an extra layer of information to my pack of pills. The first layer is the pills themselves and the day of the week marker: both allow me to keep track of where I am in the pack of pills, which helps keep me on schedule and remember to take them daily – something that’s pretty consistent among different birth control packaging. The second layer, though – the spinning dial – exemplifies how UX design can help reinforce information design. By manually spinning the dial each day, I have one more action to log in my mind reminding me that I had taken my pill for the day – meaning it’s that much easier for me to remember if I’ve taken it or not. It sounds stupidly simple, but it has honestly improved my experience with taking this medication – showing that information design needs to be thought of as an all-encompassing design field. Every aspect of a design needs to reinforce the message or information, including the experience the user has with it.