Friday, September 5, 2008

Waste Management Part 1

(Taking a brief detour away from code for a moment). Have a look at the picture just below. If you are anything like me, you are absolutely baffled at how a perfectly self-sustaining bottle of medication needs to be stuffed inside of a much larger box. Yes this is exactly how it came. Read on...

It wouldn't be fair if I didn't at least try to deduce why on Earth CVS decided to use such wasteful and useless packaging. The almighty dollar is at play here, because logic, common sense and consideration are certainly not. Here is what I came up with.

  • CVS came out with this to compete with Zyrtec, and Zyrtec has quite flashy packaging. Its possible that they needed a larger box to ensure fair product placement in the aisles. Is that the reason? Then consider my idea below.

  • Merely one cardboard slab, held in a slot above the price, yet in front of the product, but just below it, would emulate the experience of fair product placement. Behind this are all the little bottles on their own. Saves space for more product. Saves cardboard, recycling, money and my sanity.

If you think, like I do, that the above is bad, then consider Prilosec. First, the amount of packaging...

Second, the amount of actual product. YES, thats it. All these pills came from that pile above. Read on....

I do rely on these medications to some degree, so I am thankful they are there - don't get me wrong. However as someone who has devoted much of his life to improving interfaces, I have to say that I have similar concerns about waste in developing software.

The concerns are aligned when i consider the sheer weight of the pages the user has to download - and the speed at which the browser must render the page. The slower the experience, the worse off we are at selling the product.

As a designer and as an engineer, I am always on the search for the simplest possible solution that gets the job done - so the above pictures are nearly criminal to me, and cause me a certain amount of grief.

Things like this are why I got into the industry in the first place - but it wouldn't be fair if I didn't say that there is less red tape working for a software start-up, then there is for an international multi-billion dollar consumer product company.

I don't like to complain without viable solutions, so I have offered one. My solutions map to what I believe the problem to be. Lets face it - the marketing department at CVS has a lot less money to play with then McNEIL-PPC, and so I assume CVS would prefer to keep their costs down in this manner. Is that a correct guess? Maybe the opposite is true. maybe CVS has money coming out the wazoo. Then, to that I ask.... why such minimalist and boring product design? (do people want boring when it comes to generics? Perhaps!) Again, maybe I'm wrong about that. Regardless, my solution is one of many and geared towards the problem I think is at hand.

Behind closed doors there are concerns I am not privy to as a consumer. Deadlines, management breathing down your neck, serious budget shortages in a down economy, not to mention the myriad of issues around safe packaging (with the litgious nation we are), as well as distribution problems. Let us not leave out manufacturing. All in all it's a magical dance where all the partners in play somehow manage to produce a consumable that we all take for granted.

Thats a fair, if not overly-simplified view of the whole thing, right?

Still... it eats away at me that this couldn't be done better. I think someone tried... maybe that one maverick who said "why the wasteful boxes?" was shut down by management with other concerns, and he moped his way home hating the world. Maybe that happened.

For CVS, I say just sell the damn bottles on their own.

For Prilosec, I wonder why they can't put these pills in bottles. Do we really have to safety seal each individual pill? Is it because the product has a short shelf-life? Is it because *the perception* of sterility is what the consumers want? I don't know, and again, there is more at play here than mere logic.

So coming in from left field, I would offer a variety of solutions that address these concerns and yet allow maximum profitability. Hopefully, these changes reduce manufacturing costs, while appealing to the current green market.

For Prilosec, I offer the Mentos platform. Yes, the candy pictured here.

This brilliant candy roll style has been popular since candy was invented. Yet Mentos one-ups the competition with foil. Yes, the same thin metal that gives many products the appearance of sterility.

While the amount of real estate for marketing is low, can't you see the benefit of Prilosec putting their pills into foil like this? And in each 1/4 sized box is 3 of these. People can stuff them in their purses or backpacks. It gives the sense that the user is eating candy and takes some of the more medicinal aspects out of the picture. Is that not a good thing? Well, what do I know.

The difference here is that betwixt each oblong shaped acid-reducing tablet is more of the foil. You see, instead of each pill bumping up against each other - simply add a thin sheet of foil between them. Same sense of sterility. 1/4 the packaging or less.

Want to market them better? Then put them in one of these cases at the end of the aisles. There are a million ways to market items in a store - but overly wasteful packaging does not and should no longer be one of them!

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