Can We Make the Pharmacy Benefit as Easy as Using an Egg Timer?

Nick de la Mare over at frog design recently underscored the interesting distinction between tools and machines:

While tools offer a clear linkage between user and task, the machine offers an advantage in functionality with the downside of less clarity between task and user. Machines are essentially platforms, devices that sacrifice directness for implicit purpose, products with an underlying functionality or framework that, while initially focused in one particular area, can be ultimately applied to any number of tasks.

This seems right to me, especially the part about platforms as devices “that sacrifice directness.” And it’s an especially important thing to keep in mind when designing interactions in which the user wants to accomplish something quickly and efficiently, or when the user has better things to do with his or her time and attention.

One of the most significant challenges to designers is to remember that the average users spend a fraction of their day fussing with the things that the designer spends gobs and gobs of time and energy pondering.  Most people aren’t power users.  Most people don’t fret over saving a few dollars moving from one prescription drug to another, or one pharmacy to another.  Websites, for example, designed to do anything a user might plausibly consider may instead turn out to be designed to achieve little of that functionality in the hands of a typical person.

An egg timer is a straightforward example of a tool: it does one thing — rings after a set number of minutes — and it’s totally straightforward how to make it do that thing.  Can we make using the pharmacy benefit, or healthcare, or living a more healthy life as simple as using this tool?

(Note: this entry originally appeared at

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