Target's ClearRX prescription bottle redesign wasn't all that

Published Sat, Aug 30, 2008 by Austin Govella. Updated Sat, Aug 30, 2008.

When we talked about how Target redesigned their prescription bottles, we focused on a couple of important points:

First, it’s always reasonable to assume an intelligent person can look at an existing system and design changes—or something new—that corrects any problems. These improvements don’t reduce the system’s initial efficiencies.

Second, to ensure adoption of any change, you need to make sure you talk to everyone who’ll be affected.

However, in our praise of the new design, we didn’t really give the old system a fair assessment.

The cylindrical, brown prescription pill bottles you grew up with are kind of like shipping containers: they’re everywhere. And despite the valid problems Target’s CleaRX solves, the original brown bottles worked amazingly well. Pharmacists distributed millions of these bottles without any problems.

The design is elegant. Simple tubes are cheap to produce. Adding a child proof cap was probably pretty simple. (ClearRX changed their neck to be circular, like the old bottles.) And the tube is a simple canvas you can easily wrap any label around.

More importantly, at the time the original bottles were introduced, it was probably less possible to produce the CleaRX bottles, and more possible to produce the cylinders. The cylinders were a “problem that could be solved”.

Design is less about designing the interface and more about designing the organization that designs the interface. In that sense, the staid old brown pill bottle was the better design solution.

(If you’re interested in more about the CleaRX system, I’ve saved several articles on