Co.Design

Simple Genius: A Cigarette Box So Ugly, It Could Save Lives

What's nastier than a smoker's lung? This! Okay, not really. But it comes pretty close.

A couple of recent d-school grads have designed some of the most hideous packaging we’ve ever seen. That’s a good thing. So good, in fact, it could even save people’s lives.

Plain Cigarette Packaging, by Jennifer Noon and Sarah Shaw, late of Loughborough University in the U.K., is a design concept that turns sexy cigarette packs into disgusting, fumbly, puke-brown boxes. The idea: to discourage smoking by turning the actual act of reaching for a cigarette into a visceral reminder of smoking's effects.

The grads’ timing couldn’t be better. Australia is considering a proposal to ban tobacco companies from emblazoning their ur-cool logos and branding on cigarette boxes. New Zealand, Canada, and the U.K. have weighed similar measures (though ultimately dropped them over fears of legal recourse). From a design perspective, then, the question is: how to best defang tobacco branding? Is it enough to strip packaging bare? Or should regulators take a more drastic approach?

Is it enough to strip packaging bare? Or should regulators act more drastically?

We’ve seen packaging concepts on both ends of the spectrum. Build, a design firm in the U.K., had the idea to reduce cigarette boxes to single colors and robot-like OCR-B type. The problem, though, was that it still looked pretty cool. RISD grad Erik Askin came up with something more extreme, a diamond-shaped Rube Goldberg machine of a cigarette box aptly called Design to Annoy. But it looked cool, too, because it had "Marlboro" splayed all over the place.

Plain Cigarette Packaging takes the worst features of both concepts and uses them in all the right ways. Instead of a sturdy flip-top, it has a soft lid that weakens quickly, virtually ensuring that cigarettes fall out in your handbag. Instead of a sleek box, it’s shaped awkwardly like a triangle, so the once-simple act of pulling out a cigarette turns into a maddening ordeal. And where a razzle-dazzle logo might’ve presided, it’s got huge warning photos that appeal not to people’s fear of death, but to an arguably more powerful trait, their vanity: It shows brown teeth, yellowing fingernails, and mouths puckered with wrinkles. The box even has a raised, mold-like texture to emphasize all things gross and "to reduce the glamour appeal for young people," Noon says. And you have to reach straight into the open mouth to get a ciggie.

No idea whether something like this could work. We did a quick Google search to find out if folks had actually studied the impact of horrible packaging on smoking habits and didn’t come up with anything, maybe because no government has tried it before. But if countries, like Australia, are already researching the effects of plain design — and we assume they are — they might as well take it a step further and look into whether bad design can be used for public good.

[Images courtesy of Jennifer Noon; hat tip to Packaging of the World]

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