In today's blog post, we're going to be looking at examples of great cannabis graphic design and what makes them special. This is a follow up to our recent post about cannabis photography. But whereas there is no shortage of amazing weed photography in our budding (pun intended) industry, we have found that cannabis graphic design and branding are often lagging behind.
Perhaps this is because a lot of cannabis business owners don't value graphic design as much as they do photography. For a lot of new businesses, it's tough to prioritize marketing, when you have so much invested in product development, facilities, and staff. Yet that's exactly why branding and graphic design are so important. You can have the best weed in the world, but if no one knows about it, it's still going to be tough to sell, especially in state markets that are so saturated.
There's also the problem that many cannabis companies are relying too heavily on outdated stereotypes or naming conventions. Creating a distinct brand look, one that doesn't rely on cliches and tropes, is not easy, but the benefits to your business are priceless. So to help you out, here's a primer on what goes into great cannabis graphic design.
How The Legacy Of The War On Drugs Impacts Cannabis Graphic Design Today
It's hard to explain the state of cannabis graphic design today without at least briefly looking back at how we got here. Until very recently, cannabis was illegal in every US state, and it is still listed as a Schedule I drug at the federal level. Since it was first banned early in the 20th century, weed has carried a huge stigma, and cannabis culture possessed negative connotations in most contexts. From the first efforts to demonize cannabis as a danger brought by immigrants from the south, the image of cannabis in the public eye has been negative.
As a counter culture built up around cannabis, particularly in the 1960's, the image of cannabis took a radical turn, but one that has just as strongly influenced the way we see cannabis today. Often associated with hippies or bands like the Grateful Dead, the legacy of cannabis graphic design from the 60s and 70s can still be found in business logos and branding today. This is largely because many of the black market growers that thrived and survived into this period of legalization are still seeing the industry through that counter culture prism.
But modern cannabis companies that want to reach a new audience and expand their customer base need to create a unique style that reflects a new way of looking at cannabis. This is where professional graphic design and branding can be so helpful, by shedding the stigmas of the past and charting a new course for today's consumer.
What To Avoid In Modern Cannabis Graphic Design
The hallmarks of cannabis graphic design that we most commonly associate with the industry, i.e., the tropes that we are hoping to avoid, include a few key similarities. First of all, so many growers and dispensaries are using some form of the standard cannabis leaf in their logos that I hope it goes without saying that it should be avoided at all costs moving forward. If you have a standard green cannabis leaf in your logo, on your website, or in marketing materials, you should immediately hire a professional graphic designer for a brand refresh.
Speaking of the color green, this has been a standard brand color for too many cannabis businesses to count. In fact, one of the best ways you can ensure that your brand stands out from the crowd is to simply pick pretty much any other color. The novelty alone should earn you plenty of extra second glances and clicks. And if you are a cannabis dispensary, please think twice before including a green cross in your logo. This even applies to medical dispensaries.
Finally, there's a strain of cannabis design culture that is a descendant of 80s and 90s graffiti art. Typical elements include cartoon leafs or other characters smoking huge spliffs with red eyes, drooling tongues, and clouds of smoke, along with elaborate cursive fonts associated with street art. This kind of branding immediately associated your company and products with the illicit cannabis trade of years past. Not only is this sort of design aesthetic derivative, it will also turn away the new kind of cannabis consumer who's looking for a different experience.
Great Branding Should Represent Your Brand Values
Rather than relying on stereotypical ideas about what people think about cannabis, smart brands instead concentrate on trying to showcase what their company stands for. No matter what industry you're in, the proper way to approach your logo, style, and website design is from the perspective of trying to convey in a simple yet elegant manner the values that you want to be known for.
What do the above logos say about each respective company?
One cannabis farmer might have gotten into the business because they believe in the regenerative properties of the plant, both from an environmental and personal health perspective. Their logo and branding will look very differently from a cannabis grow op that features the latest technology and boosts the most advanced renewable energy and water conservation techniques. One is all about a natural vibe, while the other wants to project itself as a scientific innovator.
So what are the values that represent your company. Questions we ask all of our clients before we start designing for them include what five words best represent your company, and what do you want your customers to think about when they see your logo. Once you identify what kind of image you want to be recognized for, you need to partner with a graphic designer that's able to execute on your vision.
Graphic Design Should Be Both Simple And Complex At The Same Time
What separates the best graphic design from just the average is often a sense of simplicity. Great logos and designs should look almost easy to create (think the Nike or Apple logos) but are both easily identifiable and often create a sense of depth or complexity at the same time. This blending of the simple and complex is not easy to achieve.
There are a lot of subtle things a graphic designer can do to accent or augment a design to give it more heft. Sometimes it's as simple as adding a line, a shadow, or a sense of perspective. In the Golden Hydro logo above, we took their original logo, which was just the simple design with a solid color, and added a gradient. That simple addition added a degree of professionalism to their logo without detracting from their core aesthetic.
This should be the goal of every designer. When designs go wrong, it's often because too much detail is added. This is especially a problem in the cannabis industry, and its lingering affection for street art. But other common mistakes are using too many colors or mixing too many fonts. There's a sweet spot between designs that are too generic, and designs that are so cluttered it's not clear what the point is.
Designing For Cannabis Social Media
An aspect of graphic design that didn't exist even twenty years ago, let alone in the 60s and 70s at the height of the cannabis counter culture, is social media. There's an entire set of design best practices that only applies to social media, so working with a designer that understands the specific needs and demands of Instagram, Facebook, and the other platforms is essential. At the same time, to maximize your marketing budget, you want to create assets that can be useful in multiple contexts. This is one of the advantages of working with a professional cannabis marketing agency.
The first consideration when dealing with social is producing graphics that are best suited for each platform. Designs for Instagram do best when they are square, whereas Facebook and Twitter work best with landscape oriented images. If you have a vertical oriented cannabis infographic, that's likely going to be best suited for Pinterest. Finally, the graphics and marketing materials that perform best on LinkedIn are going to be very different than for any other app.
When designing a graphic, figure out who your audience is and/or which platform you're going to use, and then optimize the image for that particular site. If you want it to perform well on multiple social media sites, you'll probably want to export several different versions that match the recommended guidelines for each one.
Finally, there are a few other tips that apply particularly to social. In general, posts that show people's faces tend to do better than those that don't. Likewise, specific to the cannabis industry, images that show close up shots of cannabis flowers are among the most popular. Knowing these tendencies makes it easier for your graphic designer to create posts that will up your engagement and grow your following.
Incorporating Photography Into Your Designs
Speaking of photography, graphic design that incorporates or exists on top of quality photography is the best way to maximize the effectiveness of both. For example, great images are wonderful on your social media feed. But the average person spends less than 2 seconds looking at each image. That means of the hundreds of images they scroll through in a day, even if your photos stand out, they won't have time to associate them with your company. They might not even know your company's name.
One way to get around this problem is by adding your logo or other branding and design elements to your photo assets. Some of the best cannabis graphic design work involves a melding of design and photography. Of course, if you have excellent graphic design and poor photography, no amount of Photoshop magic will save you. Likewise, giving award winning photos to an amateur designer is probably not going to lead to the results you were hoping for.
You're best bet is finding a marketing agency that specializes in both photography AND graphic design. If they are exclusive to the cannabis industry, even better.
Motion Graphics Will Take Your Brand To The Next Level
There's an entire category of graphic design that is being underutilized in the cannabis industry (and I'm not talking about Instagram carousels, although those are great too). Motion graphics are a great way to create dynamic images that will immediately grab your audience's attention, whether on your website or your social media accounts.
Animated logos are growing in popularity, either to use at the end of your video content, or in animated signatures at the bottom of your emails. We highly recommend that every cannabis company invest in this, as it's an asset that will continue to create value as long as you have the same logo.
Graphic designs for social media don't have to be complex cartoons. Just simple text animations are enough to get people to stop scrolling or to swipe left on your latest carousel. Talk to your graphic designer about their ability to create animated gifs or dynamic posts. If this is outside of their skill set, try partnering with The Hood Collective.
Team Up With The Hood Collective For Professional Cannabis Graphic Design
When we started The Hood Collective in 2017, our goal was to bring affordable graphic design solutions to cannabis businesses of all types and sizes, whether they be farms, indoor grows, dispensaries, processors, activist organizations, or event organizers. If you want your brand to stand out in the crowded cannabis marketplace, you need to start with professional, eye-catching graphic design. This is one area of your business you have to leave to the professionals.
The Hood Collective offers professional logo design, packaging design, branding, web design, and animation specifically for the cannabis industry. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.