This project spans several years of research and development. Covering product design, packaging & communication design. All for the low-cost drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose in mere seconds, preventing death.
Opioid addiction has become a global epidemic, with the social realities more nuanced and complex than ever before. When we started the design process, an estimated 585,000 people died as a result of drug use in 2017, with opioids accounting for the majority of drug-related deaths. In the USA alone, between 21% to 29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, with approximately 5% eventually transitioning to heroin.
Professor Ola Dale and his team at NTNU created a pioneering and humane formula of Naloxone; the market name Ventiziolve. Our job was to take the brilliance of Professor Dale’s science and make it work in the chaos of a life and death situation. A design solution that was highly functional as well as the potential to become iconic and created with dignity.
The big question for us was: what is the best design solution that captures the core qualities of a lifesaving product; for some of the most vulnerable in society…
…that earns trust; guaranteed to be the same no matter where you come across it?
…that people will carry with them, without stigma and with comfort?
…that is easily identifiable and easy to find?
…that is simple to understand and simple to use in a life-or-death situation?
A commitment from the design team was to create a product with the highest design quality, consideration and care, for the simple but essential value of dignity to all who carry it.
The design process started with ethnographic research, delving into the social contexts, lifestyles and environmental factors of those with opioid dependency and the challenges they face. Listening to academic and activist leaders on opioid addiction and overdoses, talking with front-line social and emergency service workers, conducting observational studies of environmental factors, and taking care to understand the lives and lifestyles of people with opioid dependency.
Existing products on the market follow standard medical packaging and industrial design; following regulations without the ever-important empathy of human-centred design. Often landing on unsympathetic solutions, indifferent to the end-user, not considering the personal, social and environmental context, products that can carry social stigma and fail to support the ‘in the moment’ no-medic use in an emergency.
The outcomes of the research informed the total design approach from the product design & packaging, product identity, information and publication design, illustration & animation and film production.
The resulting design follows the ergonomic viabilities, creating a shape to become an iconic form and a symbol of help in an overdose. With the two doses recommended in each pack, the solution ensures these stay together in the most compact and easily-accessible way. Naturally, the ease of opening was essential, as was the need to ensure the applicators don’t accidentally discharge before they are needed.
“Design is a quality that too often belongs to the wealthiest and healthiest in society. An ironic reality in what design is truly for; the betterment of the human experience. Our ambition from the very start was not to compromise the design values of Ventizolve; good design is a universal right.
There is no greater communication responsibility, and therefore challenge, than at the point of resuscitating a life. But, this project focuses on far more than just that moment. The unfortunate reality being there are many barriers to saving a life, starting long upstream from the overdose itself.”
The band around the unit has two key functions, it ensures the packaging can’t accidentally be popped open and its quick release acts the same as a pin on a fire extinguisher or ‘break glass’ in front of an alarm. The act of pulling off the safety band primes you for what you are about to do… potentially save a life.
The logic of colour in the product identity addresses two functions; association with the producer to give assurance of quality and continuity, and secondly to stand out in a chaotic and/or low light environment in the case of emergency.
Information and publication design illustration style, and film production has gone through a rigorous process ensuring the very highest standards of ethics and regulations from pharmaceutical authorities. Factoring in multiple languages and clear guidance for effective use.
In the first six months of its release, it was used in over 600 life-saving situations, in Norway alone.
The design solution has received substantial media coverage from FastCo, The New York Times, Design Week, Dezeen, VG, NRK, TV2, and more.
In December 2021 Ventizolve was included in Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s exhibition “Design and Healing: Creative Responses to Epidemics”. It now features as part of the Smithsonian’s permanent design collection in New York.
A leading addiction expert from King’s College London described it as “surprising the Levis’ test”. But, the greatest feedback, for us, was from someone with opioid dependency, who told us the product made them feel “seen with dignity”. With the wider patented solutions from this process have now received interest from other pharmaceutical companies in use for other products beyond naloxone.
Ventizolve continues to be launched around the world, carried in the pockets of addicts and responsible citizens. As such, the number of lives saved grows daily.