Graphic Designers Get Political

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Pin design from Sagmeister & Walsh’s latest project

As Americans await the second debate this weekend with less than a month to go to election day, there are some graphic designers who are taking a stand.

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White lies—unethical, or an act of kindness?

kind man with devil shadowVisual 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.

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Branding Whackyweed

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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.

Sources:

http://www.pot-heads.com/what-are-the-nicknames-for-marijuana.aspx

http://onlineslangdictionary.com/

http://www.fastcodesign.com/3024457/6-branding-lessons-from-the-pioneers-of-weed-design

http://www.creativebloq.com/advertising/how-designers-are-rebranding-marijuana-61515127?utm_source=Design+Indaba+mailing+list&utm_campaign=6e059e5cdf-Weekly_17_jun_20156_18_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_eb8e2b1d91-6e059e5cdf-429312541

http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/10-best-ads-super-bowl-xlviii-155441

http://www.miltonglaser.com/milton/c:essays/#2

http://e360.yale.edu/feature/the_high_environmental_cost_of_illicit_marijuana_cultivation/2895/

http://www.livescience.com/42738-marijuana-vs-alcohol-health-effects.html

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Visualizing Global Dying

Milton Glaser’s new climate change logo

Milton Glaser’s new climate change logo

Milton Glaser’s new logo is meant to change how people perceive climate change. As Glaser observes, the phrase “global warming” sounds comforting and non-threatening. He wants us to consider the more ominous words, “global dying,” which many feel is much more accurate about the state of our planet.

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Monetizing Memorials

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 8.00.42 AM
The 9/11 Museum opened last week in Manhattan amid a storm of controversy. Designed to remember the horrors of 9/11, many feel the steep $24 admission fee, along with the crass commercialism of the gift shop, has gone too far.

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