Visual persuasion is at the heart of a graphic designer’s job. Taking information and ideas and forming them into communication that engages and invokes is what we do.
While the Olympic games themselves are steeped in excellence and “best practices” in athletics—the design of the 2020 Olympic logo has spiraled into an example “worst practices” in graphic design.
Black Friday is not an official holiday in the U.S., but California and some other states observe “The Day After Thanksgiving” as a holiday—substituting it for another official holiday, like Columbus Day. In America, it’s gotten to be almost as big as Thanksgiving Day itself.
For decades, communities and cities have been un-branding Columbus Day. Whether they are appalled at the atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus in his quest to conquer the Americas, or indignant at the idea that their community was “discovered,” the call for the un-branding of Columbus Day has been an angry voice pitted against many passionate supporters.
New York Fashion Week kicked off this past Thursday, and with it some complicated topics graphic designers are very familiar with:
Most graphic designers associate Photoshop wizardry with making visual magic to engage consumers. One of my favorite digital artists, Erik Almas, is a master at this. His campaigns for Absolut and other products are amazing and award-winning, and his work epitomizes the power of digital imaging tools to make people and places flawless, and products larger than life.
It’s a much rarer occasion when we see these tools being used for anti-consumerism, which is exactly the point with the image “Decorum,” by visual artist Margeaux Walter. A visually stunning image, at first glance “Decorum” wows the viewer with the sheer abundance of luxurious leopard fur. Yet upon further inspection, we realize the irony of the photo as the leopard gazes back out on a of scene conspicuous consumption and total suffocation.
Walter says about her work, “I’m interested in how ads, technology, and consumerism are changing our lives. We are becoming products of our products, being suffocated by our materials.”
While doing research for this blog post, I discovered there are at least 564 nicknames used for marijuana, about 500 more than exist for cigarettes and alcohol. This may be a sign of times to come for brand marketers as they scramble to figure how to brand the newly legal drug
In fact, designers and bloggers are already hard at work branding marijuana. Last month Creative Bloq published an article about the challenges designers face in rebranding marijuana from illegal to legal. They offer advice about the importance of ditching the street names and using scientific language instead.Designers are also challenged when differentiating between service and product types. Similar to alcohol and cigarettes, marijuana comes in many different strengths and flavors—but it also has a wider variety of uses including skincare products and supplements for pets.
Brand experts may differ in their process and their outcomes, but they generally agree that branding is a form of story telling. But what is the story they want to tell? Some proponents of marijuana feel it is a recreational drug, similar to alcohol. If this is the story then we can expect to see these products competing with top Super Bowl advertisers like Budweiser, romanticizing the effects of marijuana, presenting it as the ultimate party drug—sure to win you friends, fun, and make all your problems go away. Others feel that marijuana’s story should be about it’s medicinal effects and how it can be used for an overall sense of wellness, healing, and proper nutrition—a panacea of sorts. All of these stories collectively indicate big business is on the way. Companies like Aquarius Cannabis are dedicated to branding marijuana. Their website talks about the “cannabusiness” and the challenges of addressing both market sectors—medicinal and recreational.
While such business steamrolls ahead, let us not forget the ethical issues involved. Similar to branding cigarettes and alcohol, graphic designers are likely to find themselves on Milton Glaser’s “Road to Hell” when working in this industry sector. Many would argue that much like cigarettes and alcohol, branding marijuana hits #11 on Glaser’s list, “Design an ad for a product whose continued use might cause the user’s death?” Although a bit more complex due to proven medicinal effects and other uses, there’s plenty of evidence that the misuse of marijuana that would certainly put it in the same category.
Then there’s the impact of growing marijuana on the environment. It’s estimated that 60-70% of marijuana consumed in the U.S. comes from California. Marijuana is a thirsty plant—using twice as much water as wine grapes. Cultivation of this plant, especially during the current drought conditions, needs to be done responsibly. Ecologist Mary Power recently co-authored a paper for the journal of Bioscience that details the destruction of the sensitive watersheds where cultivation is done and stresses how important it is that the environment be included in the debate on marijuana legalization. Power feels that quasi-legalization increases the difficulty to address the harmful environmental effects and full legalization may make things better from an environmental standpoint.
Regardless of your opinion on marijuana, there is no disputing the fact that as the debate continues about its legalization, branding efforts will continue to grow right alongside it—and graphic designers will be navigating these murky ethical waters right alongside as well.
Fair use exists to allow scholars, educators, researchers, and more to use copyrighted works without permission or paying royalties.
On May 22 Ireland may be the first country to vote to legalize same-sex marriage.
“Yes for Love” is a campaign which asks people to help support this cause by downloading a design and using it as their social media profile.
Help support this cause, get your profile pic here and encourage people to vote yes for freedom, for commitment, for justice, and for equality: http://yes-for-love.com/
Graphic design is used for everything from advertising to information graphics to entertainment. Many feel that graphic design is at its best when it’s used for advocacy.