Can you make it look… even worse?

It’s an unusual design brief – to make the product as unappealing as possible. But that’s exactly what proposed designs for cigarette packaging in Australia hope to achieve, using a grim combination of photography, graphic design and type

It’s an unusual design brief – to make the product as unappealing as possible. But that’s exactly what proposed designs for cigarette packaging in Australia hope to achieve, using a grim combination of photography, graphic design and type…

In the UK using graphic photographs of smoking-related diseases on cigarette packaging has been a method of dissuasion in place since 2008. But the proposals for the Australian packaging, which could become law by the end of the year, go further in that many of the pictures are more horrific (referring to a host of other diseases perhaps less associated with smoking), even showing images of infant suffering and death.

Furthermore, the packaging is set to be stripped of any branding, associative colouring or typography whatsoever. The proposed packs will instead use a single colour – a drab olive green (Pantone 448C) alongside a bold yellow ‘warning’ label – with the brand name written out in Lucida Sans, which was designed in 1985 by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes.

According to bloomberg.com, research carried out by Sydney-based GfK Blue Moon concluded that “dark colours were perceived as more harmful, and dark brown was the least appealing, carrying connotations of uncleanliness. A lighter-brown color was rejected as it could be perceived by consumers as gold. An olive tint prevents the brown from looking like chocolate, which also has positive associations.”

The result is indeed a feat of negative association – suffering, pain and death – rammed home via a nausea-inducing colourway and expressionless typography. In a way, the designers have achieved something quite remarkable: a product that, on face value at least, you really wouldn’t want to buy. For those considering taking up smoking that may be enough to stop them. The counter argument is, of course, that for millions of already addicted smokers, it’s more than a simple matter of choice.

According to The Guardian, the cigarette manufacturers have claimed that the unprecendented move will mark the end for their established trademarks and logos, with the government effectively acquiring these pieces of brand property without offering compensation. The Australian government, however, has said it was “incongruous” that companies were compensated for being required to act in the best interests of public health.

But going back to the design approach, we wondered what it was about Lucida Sans that made it seem applicable here? Is it enough of a deterrent? Could the adoption of a particular typeface across all brands mean that the face becomes, in Australia at least, the default lettering for cigarettes? Will other companies and brands that use the typeface be tempted to switch from it if the association becomes too dominant?

In the design industry, Comic Sans is perhaps the most well-known typographic bête noire that springs to mind – yet in this context, the name probably sits a little uneasily with the brevity of the project. But what other typefaces might be suitable for this unusual and difficult job?

UPDATE:

Cancer Research UK has issued an appeal for signatures to its petition calling for the removal of all branding from tobacco packaging via this compelling TV spot from AMV/BBDO. It is based on recent research which sheds light on the new packaging techniques cigarette manufacturers are developing, with the aim of luring young people towards smoking. More on the story on independent.co.uk – the ad is below. Thanks to @purplesime for the tweet.

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