Design Shops Imagine What a ‘Starbucks of Marijuana’ Might Look Like

Surface magazine asks for branding ideas

Headshot of Tim Nudd

Marijuana branding is in its infancy. But one day soon, it may well be a major legal product category—with enormous design, branding and packaging needs. Today, for 4/20, Surface magazine looks to the future with an interesting exercise—getting a handful of design shops to imagine what a major national, aspirational marijuana brand might look like.

Surface editor-in-chief Spencer Bailey tells AdFreak:

I'm originally from Colorado, and each time I've traveled to Denver over the past few years, I've noticed marijuana in general and dispensaries becoming more and more pervasive there. As the editor of a leading U.S.-based design publication, one thing has stood out to me, though: the mediocre branding and packaging of weed goods. Last fall, I began to wonder, "What would an aspirational national pot brand look like? Could there indeed be a Starbucks equivalent in the world of weed?"

This project comes at a very particular moment in time, one of political and social unrest and a want from millennials and many others to legalize pot. Some designers have done this work before—take Pentagram's packaging for Leafs by Snoop—but it's really in the nascent stage. The opportunities are only going to—quite literally—grow from here.

Design and drugs have a long-standing relationship. Just think of all the pharmaceutical, tobacco, and alcohol companies that have enlisted branding mavens, packaging gurus, and graphic designers. Marijuana is the next frontier.

AdFreak presents five of the designs below, with explanations from each agency.

See all of them over at Surface.


Botánica 1545 by Saatchi & Saatchi Design

New York

Photo by Saatchi & Saatchi Design, courtesy of Surface magazine

"Cannabis, a medicinal intoxicant, has traditionally been used to both socialize and relax. Tea, the most widely consumed drink in the world after water, has traditionally been used for the same purpose. They are combined here to create the Botánica 1545 cannabis-infused botanical teas. The name is no accident: We chose the Spanish word for botanical and 1545 is the year cannabis officially arrived in the New World aboard a Spanish ship. Interestingly, tea—having been introduced to Europe in the 16th century from China—would likely have begun to make its way to the New World around the same time. The historical Spanish connection inspired not only the name but also the bottle form and pattern design. To ensure the product felt like tea and not alcohol, the bottle draws on 16th-century Spanish medicine bottles. We liked the black opaque glass look, feeling that this elevated the premium feel."


Okay by Base Design

New York

Photo by Base Design, courtesy of Surface magazine

"Because legal marijuana is a relatively new category, existing products rely heavily on conventional symbols: psychedelia, the leaf, etc., and traditional modes of consumption, like smoking and edibles. We wanted to move away from such stigmas and instead imagine how marijuana might exist 10, 20, 30 years from now, as a part of everyday life. We envision Okay as a mood modifier, a socially accepted additive as common as coffee or chamomile tea—in essence, a less sinister version of Soma from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Consider it a generic 'masstige' product that has become the Kleenex of its category, one that feels as ubiquitous in our culture as Sweet 'n Low or Budweiser."


Water Water by Omnivore


Photo by Omnivore, courtesy of Surface magazine

"Water Water is marijuana-infused, organic, and has fewer calories than alcohol. Flavors in three different THC levels pair with supplements to accent the three pillars of the working mother's life: work ('Air'—power), children ('Earth'—balance), and partner/relationship ('Fire'—love). Water Water was born out of our own chaotic lives as working mothers. We wanted to poke fun at our impossible dream to 'do it all' without sacrificing anything. Our inspiration also comes from the problems with access to clean water today in the United States, the high cost and waste involved with the bottled-water industry, and the fight for natural water rights between corporations and governments. We aimed to create an ironic aspirational brand that speaks to a holistic, decluttered, and sustainable and fashionable wellness."


L'Enfer Est Volontaire by Karlssonwilker

New York

Photo by Karlssonwilker, courtesy of Surface magazine

"Our brand's name is French. And it rhymes. It's quite long, unwieldy, and nicely pretentious. It means that hell is only optional, that one has a choice to live in it or not. The accessible premium products of L'Enfer Est Volontaire (or L'EEV) give you that choice. The first one is a bag of artisanal chips filled with organic weed smoke, conveniently sealed together for highest quality and freshness. Adding marijuana smoke doesn't use any additional energy or resources in its supply chain than an ordinary bag of chips—the air is simply replaced by premium plumes of Rocky Mountain Kush. Aesthetically, the design doesn't align itself with the long lineage of 'weed graphics,' and the packaging isn't meant to be appealing and appetizing in the typical 'chips bag' category. We liked this idea so much that we already secured the patent."


Hi by MGMT


Photo by MGMT, courtesy of Surface magazine

"Our brand is a personal chronic concierge, providing both on-demand delivery service via mobile and web and a monthly curated selection of high-end organic varietals. The assortment includes a thorough description and provenance of each strain. Products vary each month and include artisanal take on classic munchies: Himalayan sea-salt chocolate bars, single-origin gummy bears, and hybrid kale chips—all providing a guaranteed 'Hi.' The aesthetic could be described as a post-modernist lava lamp; the mutable logo acts as a free-spirited doodle. Inspiration was drawn from Karel Martens and Gabriel Orozco. Unfortunately, no products were tested during the creation of this image."

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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.