Deborah at Women's Entrepreneur Festival
Answers from Deborah
We are a small studio and cannot respond to every single question however we hope some of these answers will be useful. Please check back often, as we will be adding more to this page.
Design & Process
What are some of your research techniques?
A few years ago, we discovered a technique that has been one of the most important and valuable things I’ve learned as both a designer and an entrepreneur. If you really want to understand who it is you are designing for, and who is at the heart of your work, you must go to the gemba. Gemba is a Japanese term that actually comes from Lean manufacturing. It translates as “The Real Place,” the place where the work is done. It’s where we see what really happens and what needs changing, it’s where we discover little things that turn into big things. Many times, just being there; watching, asking, solving is all the research we do. For example, the gemba for ClearRx was my grandmothers medicine cabinet. For our Foley catheter redesign, it’s the patients bedside. For surgical procedure trays, it’s central sterile supply rooms. They are everywhere, and the trick is to go and be present.
How important is empathy in your design process?
Empathy is a huge ingredient in any work that I do. I’m not creating for the world, I’m creating for a person. In order to understand this person, I have to put myself in her shoes. What would I do if I were her? How would I feel? What would I need next? This may sound funny, but I have a love affair with the person that’s at the heart of my work. Without this deep understanding, it’s difficult for my work to succeed.
What inspired you to redesign the prescription bottle?
There were many factors that led to my decision to move forward with the redesign of the prescription bottle for my thesis. Originally, believe it or not, I was going to do my thesis on curly hair. I wanted to build a curly hair mecca, and link products to different ethnicity, cultures and curl types. Back in 2001, there wasn’t much out there in this area. But then, September 11 came, and suddenly my curly hair idea seemed trivial to me. I wanted to do something that had more meaning, something that could make a difference in peoples lives. Earlier that summer, my grandmother had a minor medication error. She accidentally took my grandfathers medication. They had the same initials, H. Adler, and their packaging looked practically identical. As a granddaughter, I was concerned for the safety of my grandparents. But as a designer, I saw a problem that needed to be solved. By understanding my grandmas needs through research, empathy, and intuition, I was able to translate that need into a prescription packaging system.
How much did you know about the industry before starting your project and how much research did you do?
I knew very little about the healthcare industry, other than the fact that my father, grandfather and uncle were all doctors, and my mom was a nurse. Growing up, I always admired and almost glorified their roles, and wanted to somehow emulate them. My grandmothers medication mix up is what led me to take a deeper dive into why these errors were happening, and what I can do to help prevent them. I started my research in her medicine cabinet. It’s there I discovered little problems that could lead to big consequences. I then looked to see if this was a common problem, and I scoured the internet and healthcare agencies to figure out if I was indeed on to something. I quickly realized my grandma was not alone in her confusion. Nearly 60 percent of Americans don’t take their medication properly. It could be anything from missing a dose, to misunderstanding a warning, to taking the wrong amount of pills. I learned that it is very difficult to capture many of these errors because people often don’t report them. I spent several months trying to prove my case, mostly to myself, and then to my MFA thesis panel. Other equally important areas I had to dive into and learn about were manufacturing the label and bottle, as well as how to make a business case to companies or government agencies that might be interested.
Did ClearRx system change much from your original masters thesis? If so, was that a challenge for you?
I was happy that most of my original thinking and design was able to translate to a nationally available product. In the gemba, I discovered that traditional round pill bottles are difficult to read because you have to turn the bottle in a full circle, and information is not displayed in a logical manner. My thesis label was intuitive and had a strong hierarchy of information (the most important information at the top). I color coded my labels for each family member, and added grooves in the back to hold additional information about the medication. I am not an industrial designer by trade, so I rigged my prototypes together with plexi tubing and dollhouse materials, anything I could do to get my ideas across. I designed my thesis bottle to be D-shaped, with a front and a back panel, and a new cap. One of the biggest changes to my original system was the actual shape of the bottle. Target paired me with an industrial designer who developed the bottles upside down shape.
It was very important for me to stay grounded and always keep my eyes on the bigger picture, which was to get the product successfully into the market. When Target took me and my idea under its wings, it suddenly became much more than me. It was a total collaboration. It took a huge team to make ClearRx come to life. Anyone from pharmacists and technicians to marketing, training and legal teams. So many things had to go right and I am so grateful for every single contribution.
Work life balance
How do you manage to run a studio and be a mom to two children?
Here lies the challenge: My ambition to do good work, run a successful studio and make positive change in this world is matched by my deep and instinctive need to be a good mom to my two children. This is not a unique problem, yet it is one we have yet to solve, both in the design community and in the wider culture. Just like childbirth, each woman has a different set of circumstances, and dances differently to a similar tune; there is no science behind it. For example, my schedule can be brutal at times. I travel every other week and sometimes have to miss kids events. However, I live above my work. I am on the fifth floor and the studio is on four. In the grand scheme of things, my family is just a little higher. I am able to give Jaden lunch or run to pick up Sophia from school. I am so fortunate to have built a strong team around me both at home and at work. I am able to find balance because I have my husband Eric’s support and partnership, caregivers I can always depend on, an incredibly talented and understanding design team, and close friendships. My solution these days is to try my best. Dream big, love a lot and push forward.