Deborah Stafford-Watson, Head of Provocation & Strategy UK at Elmwood, explores the profound shift in messaging at the core of women’s health care products.
Once upon a time, the contraceptive pill was a commodity – metered out to a precious few (and married women only). Fast-forward to the present day, and almost nine out of 10 women using contraception are prescribed it; and yet access and choice are still pervasive issues.
A series of lockdowns over the past 18 months made endemic problems around women’s sexual health services “even worse”. Waiting lists, closures and cuts stretched already besieged clinics to the limit, and women in search of sound contraceptive options paid the price.
All of this makes the emergence of Hana, one of two oral contraceptive pills recently approved for over-the-counter sale without prescription in the UK, a vital turning point in the fight for women’s sexual freedom. With its direct and relatable brand identity, everything about Hana has been designed to celebrate its status as an empowering tool for women in a new era of choice.
But this is no fait accompli – rather, it’s merely the beginning; the start of a ripple of seismic change that is starting to manifest across the female sexual health and femtech landscape. From contraceptive pills like Hana to fertility trackers and sexual wellness apps, a new wave of products are putting women firmly in the driving seat of their own healthcare journeys.
Unveiling the human touch
One of the ways in which this shift is taking place is within the language and look of women’s health innovation. Traditionally, contraceptive products have drawn from a somewhat restrained design lexicon: colours are muted and information is dense, with a clinical sense of formality throughout.
When we created the Hana brand with healthcare pioneer HRA Pharma, we sought to evolve this approach by putting the focus on the female consumer and introducing more of a personable and friendly brand ethos. Hana’s brand mark was designed to feel more individual, with a hand drawn signature that delivers a feeling of personal empowerment. At the same time, its marketing communications pivot around contemporary lifestyle photography for an everyday, human touch.
These motifs are geared at positioning Hana as more of a trusted companion than a medication per se: it’s direct, simple and relatable, like a wiser older sister. This personality isn’t just about design, but also dialogue. Female sexual wellbeing app Ferly, for example, channels similar themes of familiarity and empathy with its sensual stories, guided practices, and micro podcasts – all of which promote a confident and empowered sex life for women.
In a related vein, Megs Menopause – an online destination set up by Meg Mathews – opens up “an honest and frank discussion of all things menopause”, with advice blogs, virtual clinics, community discussion boards and more.
Building trust and transparency
In a sphere where women’s choices have all too often been judged and politicised, the onus is now on women’s health providers to reset the balance. Weaving in a human touch is one thread of this tapestry, but so too is the need for trust-building and clarity.
These nuances come into play with the design elements that we created for Hana. The brand mark is surrounded by 28 points (28 pills – 1 pill every day) making up the circular holding shape which semiotically reassures safety – an important message for contraceptive medicine. The circular symbol also evokes the pill shape, and creates a strong consistent visual brand language across all communication.
Hana’s brand was designed to be dynamic, with a digitally smart identity that reflects that while every day can be different, Hana is a point of consistency in your life. The brand comes together with bold colours and forms that break from the traditional graduated curves, pink hues and floral motifs of traditional contraceptive branding. This tension between efficacy and empowerment creates a vivacious, confident brand that women can rely on and at the same time, be strengthened by.
Again, this sense of trust and control for women can be built up via online hubs that shine a light on once-taboo issues, breaking them open for compassionate, shame-free discussion – and crafting deep confidence along the way. Period tracker Clue is a good example of this: its encyclopedia section is packed with articles covering topics such as safer one-night stands and intimacy after abuse.
Self-care in an age of empowerment
This transformation in women’s health products coincides with a wider trend targeting entrenched secrecy around topics such as periods and menopause – as well as a renewed focus on self-care driven by Covid-19.
The result of these crosswaves is a new generation of women who want a different relationship with their bodies, and the products they depend on for care. Information is key, and the femtech movement is taking a lead here. Game-changing products like the Ava fertility tracker – a wearable device that lets women know their five best days to try for a baby – are all about educating women to take control of their fertility choices.
Yet this revolution is not confined to tech alone. It’s about language, design and accessibility converging to empower women to lead their own decision-making processes. If players across the healthcare ecosystem can consciously work towards this goal, we’ll move away from a place where women are routinely shamed for seeking, for example, emergency contraception. Instead, we can create an open and empathetic space where educated self-care is not a distant ideal for women but an accepted and expected part of life.