Jason Hu / Pratt Institute
Avex Male Contraceptive
Avex Male Contraceptive
Well researched, cohesive, well executed.
Avex Male Contraceptive
I set out to study cutting-edge medical research trajectories, where male oral contraception is quickly entering the realm of possibility, and to resolve its real-world functional and physiological implications.
Like all medical packaging, the containing unit’s design would have to speak to convenience and portability, secure storage, and easy dispensation - all within versatile lifestyles and environments. There was also an opportunity to explore how graphic design could ease the users’ cognitive load by making the health concepts and self-medication process intellectually accessible, and to provide positive feedback and reassurance.
Furthermore, men, as with other groups, face the challenge of failing to take their medication regularly as prescribed. Packaging would need to address this important issue too, particularly for a user base who, if they failed in their adherence, would not face the physiological consequences of their irresponsibility. Altogether, these concerns would need to be addressed in packaging and graphic design that was at once respectfully medical, uncompromisingly functional, convenient, and simple. Finally, it was my hope to execute it beautifully while providing a satisfying tactile experience.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
In addition to rigorous functional requirements, healthcare design also possesses an equally complex emotional and cultural dimension. The topics of sexual health and contraception are particularly loaded. As Time magazine has observed, there is no “the car” or “the shoe,” but we all know “the Pill.” The cultural significance of oral contraception is fraught with the diverse and polarizing viewpoints that people have toward their bodies, sexuality, partners, and conceptions of masculinity and femininity.
In addition, the unprecedented nature of male-controlled physiological contraception made the task of introducing it to a wary public even more difficult. Thus, the success of a male contraceptive would rely not just on the physical presentation of the medication, but also upon the messaging which introduced and accompanied it. I determined that a sophisticated advertising campaign would be vital to introduce a male contraceptive to a diverse population as both culturally acceptable and personally viable.
The advertising was meant to appeal to people in a variety of relationship contexts, encouraging them to transcend traditional stigmas, and embrace this new option. This would require a consistent brand strategy, reinforcing the cultural messages, and uniting the graphic and form language at every scale - from advertising to pill to package. Advertisements would need to balance the bold aesthetics expressing new notions of masculinity with sensitivity towards women's’ deep investment in contraceptive outcomes. I intuited that this would be key to the success of male contraception.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Research was integral to the conceptualization and execution of this project. By its conclusion, I had developed and implemented a multi-stage plan, employing a variety of methodologies.
Approaching the issue of male contraception required a deep understanding of the physiology of the the male reproductive system, the current state of pharmaceutical research and development, as well as drug development timetables. Using my training as a bioengineer, I developed hypotheses regarding physiological impacts and the drug’s human factors interfaces.
In order to understand the challenges of adherence to a prescription drug schedule, I conducted strategic interviews with a several pharmacy and nursing specialists. Talking with these medical professionals enabled me to gather key insights about patient behaviors and priorities around medicine generally, and sexual health and contraception specifically. Based on the aggregated data I decided to focus on the user perspectives of urban, educated men and women between the ages of 20 and 35 - a group which is among the early adopters of and experimenters with medical technology.
Through more than 30 in-depth interviews, I gathered a diversity of individual perspectives about gender and reproductive responsibility, fears of the risks and vulnerabilities of contraception failure, and personal histories of contraception use. The stories that participants shared offered incredibly complex insights, and were only broached through interviews conducted with the utmost sensitivity, built on established trust, and of course confidentiality commitments.
After processing the central themes shared by respondents, I determined that different design development methodologies would work best for different components of the male contraceptive system. In order to develop the pill form, I began a collaborative development process with more than 20 individuals in mixed-sex focus groups. Discussions were seeded by inspirational forms found in the jewelry industry, and I asked participants to consider the emotional associations evoked by their shapes. To develop the messaging, I utilized a combination of one-on-one feedback and single-sex focus groups, during which we collaboratively development new concepts. In order to maximize the reality of the experience, I individually tested iterations of pill carrier forms and dispensation mechanisms with respondents in their home environments.
Throughout this research and development process, the primary stakeholders were always the men and women whose bodies, relationships, and lives would be directly impacted by the use or misuse of male contraception. However, the needs and perspectives of both the pharmaceutical industry and advocacy organizations that operate within the world of fertility health were also relevant. Pharmaceutical advertising and tablet forms must adhere to strict federal guidelines in the United States. Yet, compliance with regulation and the desires of NGO actors were navigated carefully. I could not let them undermine my ability to address the significant intellectual, social, medical, functional, and aesthetic challenges.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Over the last 50 years, pharmaceutical contraceptive use has significantly enhanced the lives of people around the world. It has given women reproductive self-determination and advanced their to fight to achieve equal status with men. Today, it continues to provide families greater stability and health, it gives communities a tool to resist cyclic poverty, and it helps nations address population growth and concerns of resource sustainability.
Yet, the market of contraceptives currently available is both an indication and perpetuation of an inequity, which implies that men should have little to no involvement, responsibility, or interest in being a part of the human equation. The development and deployment of male contraception will begin to balance the inequitable reality imposed by a patriarchal medical-industrial system. It will move beyond outdated notions of masculinity and femininity, and towards gender formulations that broaden our conceptions of who we can be, and compels us to be the best of that.
Male contraception offers the other half of the world an opportunity to contribute the positive impacts of planned fertility. This work has significant potential to enhance self-medication systems of all kinds, inform and educate the public, and smooth the transition into a culture that accepts and embraces male contraceptive use. The Avex Male Contraceptive illustrates how industrial design can contribute to a world where men choose to prevent unplanned pregnancy, contraception is a positive part of a healthy life, and women and men are equal partners in the truest sense.