"People don't like their medication to shout 'medication!' It can be embarrassing. So we tried to make a product that people would feel good about using."
That's Andrew Grant, director of device technology for GlaxoSmithKline, describing the Advair Diskus, a pucklike asthma inhaler that delivers 60 doses of medication. It's sophisticated yet simple to use: You twist it open, slide a lever to access the powder, and inhale. The experience feels just so and is surprisingly enjoyable, like playing with an iPod.
Advair's interactive pleasures are no accident. "We did a lot of work with patient study groups and ergonomic advisers," says Grant. "This was a first for a pharmaceutical product in terms of the design involved to make it good for people to use."
Grant's 35-member design team worked for four years on the project. It took that long to mastermind the maze of plastic innards — four primary pieces, one of which breaks down into 11 subcomponents. Plus there's the medicine, contained on a strip with 60 blister compartments. "The challenge was creating a process for assembling all the parts," Grant recalls. "We also had to figure out how to coil up the blister strip and insert it into the device." The result: A product that makes medicine less of a downer.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.