J&J blazes a new pharma trail with industry's first designer-in-chief

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Johnson & Johnson's new chief design officer, Ernesto Quinteros--Courtesy of California State University Long Beach

Johnson & Johnson has designs on a brand-new way of thinking about products. The company ($JNJ) is hiring a chief design officer, The Wall Street Journal reports, to create drugs and consumer products that look good, work well, and--it hopes--sell better.

Among the tasks facing Ernesto Quinteros, who takes on the new role in May: luring consumers back to over-the-counter drugs long-absent from store shelves because of recalls and manufacturing problems. Design could help with those re-launches, J&J group chairman Sandra Peterson told the Journal.

"[W]onderfully designed" products sell themselves, Peterson said. "Design has a huge benefit on the marketing side if it's done well."

Peterson could be quoting Steve Jobs. As the WSJ notes, Apple's ($AAPL) consumer savvy has inspired other companies to pay attention to product design. And on the other side of the fence, Apple's well-thought-out products have made consumers more demanding. Bad design is a bigger liability than ever.

J&J wants Quinteros to approach fundamental challenges in new ways. As the WSJ notes, the company would like to package prescription drugs in ways that, a., help patients take their meds appropriately, and b., inspire them to continue taking them. Adherence is a big problem--or opportunity--for drugmakers, and improving it can increase sales. Novartis ($NVS) has experimented with reminder packs for its blood pressure drug Diovan, for instance.

Considering Quinteros' most recent job--at Belkin International, where he helped design tech products like the WeMo line of baby monitors--that packaging might just include pill bottles that beep or light up when a dose is due. Or "smart pills," which contain tiny sensors to monitor pill-taking and, potentially, bodily functions.

The basic idea is to get designers involved in development early on, to help make sure their designs not only solve problems and look good, but are feasible to manufacture. J&J has more quotidian tasks in mind, too, such as reworking its websites to be more appealing and easier to use.

So which Big Pharma will be next to bring on a CDO? We'll take your bets. It's sure to happen, as drugmakers wake up to the new era of the informed-and-involved patient.

- read the WSJ piece (sub. req.)

Special Report: Top 10 pharma companies by 2013 revenue - J&J

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