Creative Pharmaceuticals Healthcare

Can pharma branding be ‘authentic’? Agencies explain how to design for the life sciences


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

October 27, 2021 | 7 min read

Clients in the life sciences and pharmaceutical sectors want their products to be as visually distinctive as possible – but for designers, bringing medicines or agricultural solutions to life can be a tall order. Agencies We Launch and Code Computerlove explain how they tackled difficult briefs for their life sciences clients.

pcr test packaging

We Launch’s design for the MyHealthChecked PCR test

Some products don’t need much help standing out from the crowd. But for the life sciences and pharmaceutical sectors, where one vaccine or pill can look much like another, design and branding has to do a lot of legwork to bring a solution or service to life.

Complicating a designer’s job, though, is the need to bring color while not misleading audiences about the nature of the product and stay within regulatory bounds.

Branding and design agency We Launch has spent several years confronting these problems for two of its clients, pharmaceutical giant GSK and consumer health provider MyHealthChecked.

Recently, it was briefed to design the packaging for MyHealthChecked’s off-the-shelf PCR tests. The kits had to be recognizable as Covid-19-related products without being intimidating.

Penny McCormick, chief executive of Concepta (MyHealthChecked’s parent firm), says: “In order to secure our target retail account, we wanted to stand out and give retail a product that looked credible, as well as user-friendly. Our aim was to bring to market a government-approved, CE-marked kit that meets full regulatory compliance from test accuracy through to strict packaging compliance, while looking like a consumer product.”

mhc illo

WeLaunch’s solution involved bleached pastel tones and a line-drawn rendition of the crenelated coronavirus particle familiar from breaking news graphics.

Stuart Lang, We Launch’s founder and creative director, explains: “Health solutions are no longer being delivered in cold, clinical environments, and products like this need to speak to the public in a similar tone of voice to other personal care products to gain and retain market share.”

It also produced ’Visualising Data,’ a wide-reaching project for GSK, the year before the pandemic. The aim was to bring GSK’s intellectual work – and the data behind the firm’s research and development efforts – to the fore to highlight its use of modern scientific techniques.

Philippa Proctor, director of visual identity and content production at GSK, says: “We do some incredible work, but it’s not always particularly photogenic.“

In particular, the process of discovering new drugs – while an important one to GSK’s brand image – is difficult to bring to life. The reality, she says, is “computers going through data ... it doesn’t lend itself to visual treatment very easily.“

At its core, according to We Launch managing partner Adam Helliwell, the job was bringing “the story of data and technology within GSK“ to the firm’s target audience of “investors, media and healthcare professionals.“

Taking a cue from GSK’s signature orange, We Launch conjured up a vibrant, colorful assault on the senses, inspired by data visualizations and research diagrams.

Proctor says it was a departure for GSK, which usually aims for authenticity in its comms. “Ordinarily we wouldn’t go down the route of abstract because it doesn’t allow enough authenticity,“ she says.

Although that phrase is typically associated with consumer brands, she argues GSK’s past focus on featuring white-coated scientists – the faces behind the research – also fits the bill. “Pharmaceutical companies are very protective of our data, because that’s critical to us as a business ... but that can be perceived as secretive. So ’authenticity’ for us was about demonstrating ... who the scientists behind this great work are, who the other members of our business are. How do we bring a face to GSK?“

The We Launch team worked with generative design studio Variable, and interviewed teams within GSK, to produce imagery and animations that reflected the real processes behind drug discovery. “All the movement within the imagery is actually created from different data points ... so you can understand how that data is working.“

“We wanted it to feel like it was grounded in science,“ says Helliwell. The end result is an authentic representation, he says, of the data and science behind GSK’s business. “It’s thought-provoking and incredibly authentic.“

What about product design?

User experience (UX) and product design are frequently as important as accessible aesthetics, a balance evident in Code Computerlove’s recent work on the FieldMate app for pharma company Bayer’s Crop Science division. The app helps growers and farmers diagnose issues in the field, and is intended to replace directories and reference books.

Rachael Roberts, marketing and communications manager at Bayer Crop Science, explains: “Our investment in agri-tech goes hand-in-hand with our continued commitment to product development to meet the needs of our customers.

“Digital solutions are essential for providing fast and easy access to vital information and for increasing our own internal efficiencies and effectiveness. The new app will enable us to update content quickly and ensure it’s in line with the fast-changing regulations and legislation in our industry.“

bayer pharma app

Richard Murdoch, lead digital consultant at Code Computerlove, tells The Drum that the job meant balancing regulatory and UX concerns with creating an attractive aesthetic experience.

“The main regulatory element is that the downloadable documentation must be the most up-to-date for farmers to use products correctly and safely. To that end we need to make sure that the database of products is maintained across the website and app. We have created the app to read from the same database and when it gets a wifi connection it will look for updated versions and give the user the option to download,“ he says.

“Our use of design thinking means that all of our solutions are always viewed through the lenses of desirability, feasibility and viability. This app was no different. So we started first with the fundamentals of how much our users would want this product, then how viable it was for Bayer as part of their overall strategy and of course how feasible the technology was within budgets.

“Bayer’s brand guidelines and the need for the app to be enjoyable as well as usable resulted in what we think is a product that blends both.“

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