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Redesign | Friday, April 18, 2014

Studio 360 initiated this design project to explore cultural issues around the legalization of marijuana. It does not imply advocacy for the drug or its use.

Marijuana is now mostly legal in two states and approved for medical use in 20 more. Pot is gradually going mainstream, but “there’s no West Elm bong,” says Amy, a publishing executive who smokes regularly, and participates in a pot lifestyle site. People like Amy (not her real name) don’t identify as stoners; they just prefer a mild high to getting tipsy. But cannabis culture is stuck in the past: tie-dye, the hemp leaf bumper stickers, the Cheech and Chong routines, the Snoop Dogg jokes.

Studio 360 has asked designers to come up with new concepts for the gay pride flag, Monopoly, and even Christmas, and we came up this design challenge: rebrand marijuana for mainstream culture. The Original Champions of Design (OCD), a branding firm that has worked with the Girl Scouts of America and the WNBA, took on the challenge. “It doesn’t imply that we smoke pot,” co-founder Jennifer Kinon quickly points out. “We don’t — I never have. But the scientific research [on the drug] is something I do believe in,” she tells Kurt Andersen.

With partner Bobby Martin, Kinon began surveying the field, noting marijuana’s many slang names: weed, grass, ganga. OCD decided quickly that a renaming was in order. Instead of smoking weed — “smoking is out as a way to consume anything,” Kinon says — people would consume “cannabiotic” products made with marijuana.

The principal graphic in OCD’s concept proposal is inspired by the hemp leaf: an abstracted, seven-bladed leaf in purple — “like a very short, rounded Christmas tree, or a smushed asterisk,” Kinon says. The color was chosen for, what Martin calls, “cues to red wine, and subtle connotations of purple haze.” The same mark also appears in a warning symbol, designed to indicate the product’s toxicity, on a background of lime green, over crossed bones. (Would that really be enough to keep the children away from “cannabiotic” brownies, though?)

In OCD’s concept, educated users would deliberately choose marijuana products over the old default of coming home and pouring a drink or two. Their proposal hails this as “conscious untensioning.” Whether legalization of the drug proceeds or stalls, Kurt Andersen thinks “untensioning” may be a hot new word of 2014.

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