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How This Agency Smashed Taboos of the Cannabis Industry

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 02/02/2017 | 9 Minute Read

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Even though it’s been decades, Reefer Madness still manages to influence opinions of something that, compared to something widely available like alcohol, is incredibly safe to use. So when approached with designing Lord Jones, a line of cannabis-infused products, Werner Design Werks knew they really needed to educate themselves and present the items in a way that the market hadn’t seen before. We chatted with the Minnesota-based agency about their process for designing in this relatively new industry, dealing with regulations, and how to aim for luxury.

Walk us through the design process that you went through for this project.

Werner Design Werks: “Established and venerable, not retro, not kitschy. A subtle nod to ‘dope’ and the taboo. While at the same time demystify it and make it accessible.” An excerpt from the Lord Jones project brief.

The brief along with the name and motto “For Your Royal Highness” informed much of the design exploration. From there we began to define and personify Lord Jones: A 17th century bon vivant, cultivated, refined, and living the good life. Lord Jones, the prince of jonesing. Being of royal blood, Lord Jones, obviously, required a coat of arms.

Having narrowed down the essence of the brand, our design exploration was relatively focused. We immersed ourselves in the symbolism of heraldry, coat of arms and family crests. We presented several crest variations, some more quirky and some more straight-up reverent.

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Original concepts for the Lord Jones logo.

Ultimately we landed on a rather flamboyant coat of arms with two muscular collared stags, a cannabis leaf adorned crown topped with a stoic hawk, mingling with organic filigree and cannabis buds. We worked with illustrator Elvis Swift to create the final rendered crest. He was able to capture the exact line quality and rhythm we were striving for. 

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Our clients Cindy Cappobianco and Rob Rosenheck have significant experience in the luxury goods category and from the beginning saw this as the ultimate position for Lord Jones. Thinking of Lord Jones edibles as a giftable item that you would bring to a dinner party, like fine wine. Our goal was to create a package that was as luxury as the products and so beautiful and well crafted and you wouldn’t throw it away. We wanted a package you’d be proud to display on your shelf, as well as have a sensuous, tactile quality that would feel precious in the hand. Even opening the box should be an experience, a ritual.

We were thrilled when our client said they wanted the packaging to be made in the US, despite the possibly higher price-per-unit. We worked with Franklin Press to make the premium two-part wrapped and lined boxes. They did a beautiful, high-production-quality box, at an affordable cost.

We selected a brighter color palette for Lord Jones to add levity and fun to the formal language of the crest and package form. After all Lord Jones is refined but certainly he knows how to have a good time. The bright colors were also a reverent nod to 1960s Wes Wilson posters.

Lord Jones Pain and Wellness formula topicals launched after the edibles. We took some liberties with the formal aspect of the coat of arms and enlarged it beyond the edges of the box. Creating a cheeky dance line of stags dancing cheek to cheek when the boxes are lined up.

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What was one of the biggest goals you set out to achieve with Lord Jones packaging and how did you accomplish it?

Werner Design Werks: To break through what was currently happening in this very young and still taboo category.  To create a brand and package that would elevate the cannabis category and the conversation. Cindy Cappobianco, the co-founder of Lord Jones, states it best: “our goal was to make our products relevant to people outside of ‘stoner’ culture. That’s where the future lies.” We wanted to create an edible experience of the highest order.

I think we did that. According to press and reviews (since they can’t send them to us we can’t judge for ourselves) the products are incredible, and the packaging enhances the experience.

“With a beautifully illustrated logo and gorgeous color palette, this package is reminiscent of the Hermès brand, creating instant credibility and desire for the products…Using high-end production techniques including foils and embossing across the product line further elevates the brand.” – High Times, August 2016

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What was the most challenging part of this project?

Werner Design Werks: The actual decision to “take the project on” was the most challenging part of the entire project.

Back in early 2014 when Rob Rosenheck approached us to gauge our interest in working on a cannabis project, we hesitated. We knew nothing about the industry. We didn’t partake. We knew nothing about competitors. We knew little about the plant or its properties. I didn’t even know the cultural language—what the heck is jonesing? It was, at the time in our minds, still a taboo industry—we were certain we’d never be able to show the work to anyone on our site or anywhere. We’d likely never even be able to taste the product, not even for our research (which to date is true).

Before we even said yes to the project we did quite a bit of research into the industry: the health benefits and risks as well as the growth of the category. It seemed the health benefits outweighed most of the potential harms. We were sold and excited to be part of this emerging category that was about to explode into mainstream culture.

Our clients, Cindy and Rob, were not discouraged by our lack of knowledge, in fact they felt it was exactly what Lord Jones needed. A design firm that wasn’t enamored with the culture, but rather would approach the brand in a way similar to that of a premium liquor brand.

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What, if any, special packaging regulations did you have to follow because Lord Jones is a cannabis product?

Werner Design Werks: Each state and municipality has their own regulations and they are in constant flux. To put this into perspective, it’s only been since 2012 that the first states of Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational marijuana. The first sales in those states didn’t happen until early to mid 2014. We started talking about this project spring of 2014. Much has happened since then.

Our client kept on top of the ever-shifting regulation landscape. For a time, before we went to press, we kept changing the copy based on the newest regulations. Ultimately we ended up putting very little permanent information on the edibles boxes, and used a system of labels to adhere to the regulations of each municipality. With the topicals, we printed different versions of the packaging to abide by local regulations.

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Why did you opt for a luxury, high-end packaging design?

Werner Design Werks: When we began the design process in early 2014 there were very few cannabis brands out there. And the ones that did exist, didn’t seem to realize the importance branding could and would play in the future. At the time early cannabis companies were an island unto themselves. They weren’t competing with anyone and their packaging often wasn’t much more than a vessel to hold the product. There was little desire or need to differentiate or create a brand story for themselves.

We knew this was all about to change. As more and more states were discussing the legalization of recreational cannabis it became clear that the category was about to explode. And the market would fill up with competitors—it would be like the gold rush, each brand trying to stake their claim, in this new market.

We, along with our clients, knew we wanted the brand to be taken seriously: to communicate high end premium ingredients. We wanted to elevate cannabis beyond the stoner culture. We wanted to make it giftable, like a bottle of wine. We wanted it to be fun but luxury first.

Of course we went down several design paths early in the process. Earthy or kitschy was where the category was currently and that didn’t fit our goals. One fun and easy design direction would have been to co-opt the aesthetically cool drug culture of the 1960s. Of course, it was too easy and too expected and more importantly it wasn’t true to our clients. Our clients have extensive experience in working with luxury brands and products—they know how to reach that audience in a way that we suspected many newcomers wouldn’t.

It was pretty obvious the design direction would be lux, crest and all befitting a man of title.

If you could pick one aspect of the finished design that you like the most or feel especially proud of, what would it be and why?

Werner Design Werks: We are, of course really proud of the Lord Jones branding and packaging. But we’re even more proud to be involved at the beginning of a new and emerging product category. We’re helping to establish and determine how people think about cannabis products, both consumers and legal regulators. We’ve helped to shake off some of the taboos associated with cannabis.

PS Check out more amazing cannabis product packaging designs.

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