It’s no secret the pharmaceutical industry has always been big business, dating back to its inception in the late 20th century. But what’s not as well known, perhaps, is the cozy relationship between some of history’s most celebrated designers and their extensive involvement in the early marketing of brand-name drugs, as Creative Review‘s Patrick Burgoyne points out:
Herb Lubalin created some of his most influential work while working for Sudler & Hennessey, an advertising agency which specialised in pharmaceutical marketing. He was not alone. Other design and advertising luminaires, including Franco Grignani, Lester Beall, Paul Rand and Will Burstin, all worked for drugs companies.
More than an historical footnote, the relationship between designers and big pharma points to some early questions of ethical conduct related to the industry, a detail Burgoyne addresses: “As the organisers (curator Alexander Tochilovsky and coordinator Emily Roz) put it, this was a time when ‘the marketing of brand name drugs to the consumer marked a paradigm shift in medicine away from physicians and into the hands of pliable public opinion.’ Suddenly, patients were asking their doctors for particular drug brands, swayed by major ad campaigns.”
Next month, the work of the aforementioned designers will be on display as part of an exhibition titled Pharma at Cooper Union’s Lubalin Center. Such an exhibition makes you wonder if, 50 years from now, we’ll all be filing in to Cooper Union again to gaze at the packaging designs for drugs like Cialis, Lipitor, Prevacid, and Lexapro. If we’re lucky, the answer’s no.