Design is good for Marijuana

Wine has its winemakers and sommeliers, beer has its brewmasters and cicerones, so marijuana needs its guides: growers and tastemakers, doctors and shamans. Guides to flavour and aroma, describing consumption methods and tools, vetting recipes for edibles, advocating for ethical growing practices, teaching responsible use; prescribing dosages; leading through spiritual experiences. During the prohibition of marijuana, the guide was reduced to an anonymous dealer in a dark alley. As their new voices emerge they will need intelligent graphic language and visual vocabulary to eloquently describe a space that is largely unknown to the average user. How does information design fit in this narrative?

1) Information design can help users navigate the cannabis category.

Here in Canada (particularly in Vancouver with its burgeoning dispensaries) the category is largely lacking in intelligent visual design. Academic courses designed to add credibility put minimal emphasis on information design. From a user experience angle, critical point-of-use labeling is largely lacking important information. When there is information, it not clearly laid out, there has been no attention paid to hierarchy, usage instructions are not written in plain language and lack beautifully crafted pictograms. They fail to answer the basic questions such as, “How much do I use?” and “How do I use it?”

2) Intelligent design can promote ethical behaviour.

Organized crime has had free run of the category leading to low expectations for ethical behaviour. Although there are no actual or real dangers to the average consumer, there are specific groups of people that need to be advised (e.g. parents), and of course it needs to be kept out of the hands of children and teenagers. There is an immediate need for childproof packaging and clear standards for warning labels. There may also be a requirement to minimize visual exposure of products in storefronts and on the outside of containers. The industry should be proactive in promoting responsible use before it is legislated.

3) Branding can change negative perceptions.

There is a need to rebrand the category itself. It has been subjected to decades of misrepresentation and irrational hysteria. A case in point is Harry Anslinger’s 1937 Marihuana Tax Act and the campy film that helped inspire it, Reefer Madness. Here in Canada we [preceded?] it under the influence of Emily Murphy’s The Black Candle and her rhetoric steeped in bigotry and racism. The fact that a clear majority of Canadians support complete legalization indicates that there has been change of heart. The list of examples is long, full of fascinating anecdotes, amoung the most notable ones is John McKay, the former US district attorney who prosecuted and extradited Marc Emery, sitting beside Jodie Emery at a press conference and calling for the legalization of pot.

Information design can provide a rich toolset to change perspectives and explain cannabis. While honouring the past, we need to invent new graphic language that can describe a culture beyond the stoner nomenclature of potheads and doobs. The existing visual vocabulary speaks to a demographic that is unmotivated and lazy. But marijuana has a long and rich history full of active lifestyle, creativity and healing. As a case in point please see the brand story that Sweet Soul created for a marijuana edibles collection.