A few years ago, I was a designer at a small company that produced sales training materials for pharmaceutical companies. One project I worked on was a deck of flash cards that sales reps would use to familiarize themselves with all of the different brands and versions of oral contraceptive currently on the market. There was a photo of the product and its packaging on one side and all of the details and dosages on the other. I was often struck by how the visual aspects of most of the products seemed to fall into either a nostalgically feminized or a coldly clinical aesthetic. Being male, I was kind of curious about this. Did the flowers, the butterflies, the pinks and purples on the dispenser make the experience of using the pill different? Did these “pretty” packages have a marketing impact?
I was also fascinated by all of the different schemes, both graphical and mechanical, designed to make sure the pills are taken correctly. In most cases, all the pills in a prescription are identical and anonymous. Each pill does the same job as all the others. Each pill in a course of contraceptives, on the other hand, has its own meaning and identity.
The PBS series American Experience did an episode about the Pill. As far as I could tell from a quick reading of the transcript (I didn’t get to see the broadcast), it doesn’t touch on any of these issues. However, there is an image gallery on the website devoted to the episode and it contains a fair amount of material about various designs of the Pill’s packaging. For instance, before the first version of the Pill (Enovid) was used as a contraceptive, it was used to treat menstrual irregularities and was delivered in a simple, small brown bottle.