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Building Trust Through Design

Posted by | 3:30am on Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Trust Us, We're Experts!

The sites that stray from the formula and try to do something a little different seem to stand out and, through their individuality, seem to say that they’ll provide their own unique brand of care and trust. 

PJ Macklin, interactive designer at Siren Interactive, contributes this essay:

In an industry in which consumer trust is so important, niche pharmaceutical web designers are in a bit of a pickle: how does one go from making a faceless pharmaceutical corporation look like one that truly cares about each and every patient’s health and well being? As a graphic designer who works with niche pharmaceutical websites, there are a few things I’ve noticed that act as roadblocks to achieving this task. While other industries are free to use compelling photographs, flashy graphics and illustrations, and deal-sealing testimonials, pharma is not only limited by regulatory institutions but also by their need to convey trust, reliability, and support to the patients and doctors considering their product or therapy. If it sounds a little bit like walking on eggshells, that’s because it is; design in the pharmaceutical world is so conservative because there are so many hoops to jump through and relationships to foster.

There are several ways that pharma websites try to get around these pitfalls. One of the more common techniques is to use lots of organic shapes and natural colors to conjure a sense of calm and naturalism. Trisenox, an orphan drug used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia, does exactly that. The round curves and shapes have little or no ostensible relationship to the therapy, but it does elicit a calm and natural response from the user. Does it convey a sense of trust and care? It doesn’t not convey a sense of trust and care, but it doesn’t seem to say “trustworthy and respectful” either. The result seems to be a rather faceless pharmaceutical corporation, the very thing designers are trying to avoid in the first place.

Another technique is the extensive use of stock photography. Eye contact, even on the internet, can be effective when it comes to creating a sense of trust or personal connection. Vidaza, an orphan drug used to treat myelodysplastic syndromes, has a website that serves as a perfect example. The homepage is rife with active seniors in the woods or on the beach (and also has plenty of accompanying organic curves and lines). While it seems to strike a more personal chord, there’s a sense of superficiality to it. We don’t know if these people are actually patients or if they are generic stock photo models. Nothing about them really says “patient,” which undoubtedly is the point, but the photos look a little too staged. More effective than organic shapes alone, but still, the trust barrier hasn’t been broken.

So what does convey trust in a niche pharma website while effectively communicating its message? The sites that stray from the formula and try to do something a little different seem to stand out and, through their individuality, seem to say that they’ll provide their own unique brand of care and trust. Hemophilia Village, a site from Wyeth, does a pretty good job. With their fresh and consistent (but still rather conservative) color palette and their use of silhouette illustrations, the site manages to stand out, which in turn emits a sense of community and trust.

Dacogen, a therapy for myelodysplastic syndromes, greets the user with a seamlessly integrated video of a man that explains the function of the site and what a user would find at the site (and where to find it). This works particularly well at creating a sense of trust not found on other therapy sites not only because it guides the user through the site in a rather engaging way, but because not many other sites are doing anything like it.

From my point of view, even though marketing for pharmaceuticals errs on the side of conservatism, I find that the websites that experiment and try unique solutions are the ones that win – by standing out, they manage to say that they care enough to go the extra mile, and by association, will exert the same effort and attention towards their patients and consumer community.

These are some trends I’ve noticed across niche pharmaceutical websites as I’ve searched for visual solutions to the problems inherent in the industry. If you’ve noticed similar trends or even opposing trends, let me know! I’d love to hear what other problems or solutions people seen in the niche pharma website world!

(Image courtesy of phauly via Flickr)

About PJ Macklin

With an in-depth understanding of the world of web development and a keen eye for effective design, PJ takes a unique approach to each creative marketing solution. PJ plays a key role in the design and development of web-based strategies that drive and enhance user experience.

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