spain

Pharmaceutical Packaging: A Design Galapagos

There’s a certain part of me that adores utilitarian design: Road markings, oil refineries, factory lines. The Melbourne museum has a small display that shows the history of barbed wire fencing. Enthralling. There’s a guy in New York who does tours into the basements of old buildings to talk about boilers.

And I love pharmaceutical packaging.

Not the stuff on the counter. Or foot balms. Or cosmetics. I’m talking about the good stuff. The stuff out the back.

I had the good fortune to recently find myself in the back of a pharmacy in Spain. Basically, in graphic-design-nerd heaven.

I’m sure you’re aware of the formula. White box. A large headline of black sans serif type. Geometric blocks of colour. Unlike the counter drugs, this is a world that is not designed for consumer seduction. It’s designed so that the pharmacist doesn’t get confused and mix up your Viagra with your Vicodin.

It’s beauty is in it’s strict adherence to function. One striking aspect of this strictness is that a drug’s packaging necessarily becomes a time capsule from the year of its inception. If the function of the package is to not confuse the pharmacist then why would you want to change the typeface, or the colouring?

To see these artefacts of decades of graphic design trends all together on the same shelf is bracing: its the living dead. Like seeing your ancestors all together in the same room, all young, fit, fresh and beaming back at you.

There’s nothing plain about the rail in Spain

Autovia 8, west of Bilbao, where it finishes

Spanish rail is a delight.

It’s cheap, about as difficult as getting on a bus, and more or less on time, and you can travel locally at our train speeds (for about two euro an hour) or at 300km an hour if you’re going cross country and want to spend a little more. It’s a goddam pleasure at that speed to just have a glass of wine, lie back, and watch the train unzipping the countryside. Barcelona to Madrid is roughly the same distance as Auckland to Wellington. In Spain that’s less than three hours, from the moment that you dive into one underground until the moment that you emerge out of another.

It’s a similar distance to travelling, say, between Queen Street in Auckland and Lambton Quay in Wellington. With our check-in times and the quality of our transport to and from each airport here in New Zealand you’re lucky to make that sort of time if you fly. And we easily the have the population density to support just one train line between our two main north island cities.

For years our transport policies have focussed on getting more land under tarmac and more vehicles in and out of cities faster while refusing to invest in any reasonable alternative. The revolution in communications seems to be happening, but surely our bodies need to keep pace with our minds?

Grumble mumble mumble.

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Microcostas

Despite being a designer, its not actually that often that I see something and am instantly swayed by it.  This coastal decking by Spanish Firm Guallart Architects on the coast between Valencia and Barcelona got me however.  Its got all sorts of nice rational behind its form and design.  But for me it hit the sublime magic button that transcends all that stuff.  Stunning work.  Images from their site: www.guallart.com