is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
I was thinking about medicines this morning. As I’ve complained before, it’s been a terrible winter and so I’m fending off what seems like the fourth or fifth cold of the season already (having a toddler who brings home germs from play groups is part of this too).
My medicine cabinet is full of open boxes of cold remedies like Cold-Eeze, Zycam, Robitussin and others. Most of these over-the-counter medicines would taste neutral, bitter or worse were it not for the window-dressing of artificial flavorings like cherry, citrus or that generic, unidentifiable kind of sweetness you might associate with Smarties and other completely unnatural candies. Similarly, they’re all far too sweet for my taste; almost all of them make me a little nauseous.
Part of the reason for this of course is that it’s probably unwise, for obvious concerns, to make medicines so tasty that you look forward to the next dose. Still, it seems possible to me to create a sub-class of cold remedies that have more subtle, less powerful flavorings. I’d probably buy a cough syrup that tastes like some kind of lightly sweetened tea, for example, or a throat lozenge that has the flavor of rice candy, or a zinc supplement that comes in butterscotch. These could and probably should still taste a little bit unpleasant, but they don’t need to be as brutally sugary as they are now.
You Are What You Sneeze
This is all a bit off topic for this blog, I know, but there is some connection to design here. Nearly all of the basic goods we consume now exist in some more specialized, more eclectic and yes more expensive form. There are artisinal cheeses, organic breakfast cereals, grass-fed beef, raw milk, and many more bobo alternatives to the basic stuff our parents used to buy unquestioningly.
This trend has a lot in common with the rise in prominence of design over the past decade or two; it’s intimately linked with our increasing interest in consuming things that are more sophisticated and more elitist. I think we have to recognize that in large part design is about enabling more conspicuous, self-congratulatory forms of consumption, and while sophisticated foods are not strictly a form of design, they are complementary to the designed lifestyle that many of us aspire to, and that many of us promote. I’m not implying a value judgment here, because I am clearly in the target demographic for a lot of these goods. I’m just remarking that it can be striking when a whole category of goods like medicines is omitted from that kind of thinking; it just makes me think that it’s only a matter of time before I can buy a bottle of organic, Napoleon cherry-flavored NyQuil. And I’ll probably buy it, too.+