Builds Blog


The cigarette packet.
Text from the article, courtesy of ICON magazine.
The government proposes selling cigarettes in plain packaging to limit their appeal – could they still look good while warning smokers? We asked graphic design studio Build to light us up.
When we got the brief we already knew about the government’s proposal for unbranded or plain packaging. We chose to approach the design almost from a non-design perspective. Stripping out any superfluous design elements and taking it down to an ultra-“generic” feel was quite liberating.

● 1-Marlboro Lights.
A lesson in reductionism. OCR-B, a monospace typeface, was chosen for its clarity and genericism. The QR code [beneath the barcode] links to a government website on the effects of smoking and how to quit. We introduced a very small strip of colour to help indicate from a small distance the cigarettes’ brand. This is for two reasons: to aid people selling the cigarettes and to add a small level of anti-piracy measures (the colour would be foiled). We feel this is the most successful version of the three.

● 2-Marlboro Lights.
Information. What is actually in a cigarette? There is no hierarchy, with the brand taken down to the same level as the information. Food packaging now has to list its contents by law – why should cigarettes be any different? This is what is contained in the cigarettes you are about to smoke. This design brings that information to the foreground, and the branding takes a back seat.

● 3-Marlboro Reds.
The warning message. What are the possible consequences of smoking this packet of cigarettes? Real-time messaging, real consequences. Branding is taken down to a strip of recognisable colour – brand allegiance reduced to a colour strip only. As a designer, this approach is really refreshing: no gloss, just information.

● 4-Marlboro Menthols.

How the article appeared in the magazine.
We went through quite a few routes, from grotesque pictures of the perils of smoking, to really disgusting typefaces, but felt the best approach was one of reduction and genericism. Take anything off the packet that wasn’t necessary, and focus on the information.
Big thanks to Shazia and the team at ICON.

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Comments (26)

  1. I don’t know what it is, but cig­a­rette pack­ag­ing seems to look good no mat­ter what you do to it. I’m a non smoker, but I’ve always been drawn to the pack­ag­ing, even when it was plas­tered with anti-smoking images.

    I like your first option the best as well, but feel it still looks too good and is not going to reduce the appeal. I would say that the third option prob­a­bly works the best in that it’s the one I like the least.

  2. I feel like smoke now

  3. “The gov­ern­ment pro­poses sell­ing cig­a­rettes in plain pack­ag­ing to limit their appeal“
    I tink you failed. This one is so sim­ple and sexy that it’s even more beau­ti­ful than the actual pack­ag­ing ! (kidding)

  4. I think you have done a great job aes­thet­i­cally, they really do look great, espe­cially if they were all in a cab­i­net at the newsagents with dif­fer­net colours, but unfor­tu­nately that’s not what Its aim­ing for. Hope­fully this is just an attrac­tion from a design eye point of view, have you tried them on the nor­mal con­sumer to see how they feel about them? That would be inter­est­ing to know.
    A designer called DJ Stout did a sim­i­lar thing a bit about based on old med­ical draw­ings (link below) which looked great but Made it more appeal­ing to start smok­ing than stop.

    Im not a smoker myself but I feel the brand­ing of smok­ing isn’t what sells cig­a­rettes, maybe not even the smok­ing itself, its the lifestyle. until it becomes uncool to smoke peo­ple will always want to start smok­ing.
    (Not aimed at you Build as that wasn’t your brief, but just a view from a wider con­text on smoking)

  5. Both Marl­boro Light options are great.

    *Do they include a free down­load of Ramadan­man then?

  6. shame on you. you should have told them to f-off rather then spend­ing your valu­able time enter­tain­ing any­thing remotely con­nected with this evil subject.

  7. Can Design Make A Dif­fer­ence? Yes. Beau­ti­ful Sim­plis­tic Design by the Mages­tic Build Again. Lovely Work.

    And Love.

  8. I’m going to start smok­ing now.

  9. It’s is great. I don’t know if i would smoke more than now, but it doesn’t mat­ter, great design!!!


  10. These are really beau­ti­ful, great work. Some­times a super tight brief is a good thing.

    If they really wanted to put peo­ple off they should get someone’s mum who ‘has an eye for colour’ to design it in word. And print the same graph­ics on the cig­a­rette papers so there’s no hid­ing from it!

  11. Great job. We’ve reposted it.

  12. These are fan­tas­tic, but for some rea­son they look almost whole­some to me now :)
    You are so close to the classic/old school med­ical busi­ness packaging/typeface design, that actu­ally made them look medication-like.
    I will of course start smok­ing again.

    And totally agree with Michelle.

  13. @Aaron Moodie : Even with redesigned graph­ics, the basic shape still con­jures up decades of con­di­tion­ing. An all white cig­a­rette pack with­out a mark on it would still be rec­og­niz­able as a cig­a­rette pack. Not to men­tion that these redesigns have an unde­ni­ably well exe­cuted min­i­mal­ist appeal to them. Address­ing this becomes an indus­trial design prob­lem more than a graphic one.

    Here’s a the­o­ret­i­cal look at redesign­ing cig­a­rette pack­ag­ing to annoy users & reduce the effec­tive­ness of brand­ing :

  14. As graphic designer with a taste for min­i­mal­ism (style in which you excel), I like very much these packagings.

    I’m not a smoker, so I can­not say if it is dis­cour­ag­ing for peo­ple who smoke.

    But in term of design, it is per­fect and pleas­antly sur­pris­ing, as usual.

  15. From my opin­ion reduc­ing the iden­tity to typog­ra­phy doesn’t give it all to me. What mat­ters most is that it has a strong symbol/icon to indi­cate that this has to do with smok­ing. At all ages look­ing at a pack­age you instantly should know what it is about. In The Nether­lands (and other EU coun­tries) cig­a­rettes are only sold over the age of 18. Some­thing I’m com­pletely miss­ing in this design.

    Exam­ple: Add this sym­bol to each cig­a­rette brand (not only Mal­boro), to know the pack­age is about cig­a­rettes and the buy­ing age.

  16. Blow a smoke ring these are sweet.

  17. Yep, it’s tricky to stop non-design from becom­ing minimal-design (ie. still aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing). We had a bash a few years back, look­ing more at remov­ing brand­ing from the packs, mak­ing them all look the same: — again, I think we veered too close to min­i­mal­ism, and not close enough to ugly.

    Per­haps this is an area where design­ers just shouldn’t be involved…

  18. I agree with a lot of posters here. These designs make me want to smoke more. In my expe­ri­ence, you can’t appeal to the intel­lect to pre­vent smok­ing. You can’t even scare peo­ple away, viz Death Brand cig­a­rettes. In a sort of catch 22, I have it from an inside source that, at least in Canada, the anti smok­ing mes­sages on our cig­a­rette packs actu­ally increased sales in the teen mar­ket for the first time in 30 years. It cer­tainly worked on me. The first time I saw “Smok­ing Harms Babies”, I thought “well good thing I’m not a baby”, and cheer­fully lit up.

    Per­haps a return to sac­cha­rine, goofy or out­right sexist/offensively insen­si­tive graph­ics might be a bet­ter deterrent.

  19. A noble step in the right direc­tion, I do how­ever feel that there are over­sights in the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion. Maybe I have put to much thought in to this, yet as an ex-smoker, I have realised that the need for cig­a­rettes is purely habit­ual and com­mer­cial. The cost how­ever is much more than the cig­a­rettes them­selves. Huge health ser­vice costs and per­sonal well­be­ing. The habit can be decreased over time — per­son­ally, socially and commercially.

    What about includ­ing these mandates:

    1. No pack­ag­ing must be on dis­play. Cig­a­rettes can only be pur­chased on request.
    2. No packet can con­tain more than 10 cig­a­rettes.
    3. No crush-proof pack­ag­ing, or hinged open­ings.
    4. Length and thick­ness of cig­a­rettes are reduced in size annu­ally.
    5. Pack­ag­ing to con­tain advice on steps to quit smok­ing.
    6. Price of cig­a­rettes to be fixed regard­less of brand, strength or other dis­tin­guish­ing attrib­utes.
    7. Cig­a­rette tips and papers may not use any dec­o­ra­tive print or fin­ishes.
    8. Cig­a­rettes can only be pur­chased with the pre­sen­ta­tion of ID, to adults 18 or over.
    9. Only 1 packet of 10 or less cig­a­rettes can be pur­chased from a store at any one time.
    10. Retail­ers of cig­a­rettes must pro­vide free infor­ma­tion and be trained in pro­vid­ing advice on how to quit smok­ing.
    11. Loose tobacco may only be sold in quan­ti­ties equal to 10 cig­a­rettes at the size and length man­dated.
    12. The same restric­tions in brand­ing and pack­ag­ing apply to loose tobacco, papers and fil­ters. Includ­ing the length and roll cir­cum­fer­ence of papers.
    13. Smok­ing any­where in pub­lic to be pro­hib­ited. Smok­ing restricted to pri­vate res­i­dence or vehi­cles.
    14. Smok­ing in vehi­cles with a child and/or non-consenting adult is pro­hib­ited.
    15. The sale of cig­a­rettes and tobac­cos to be phased out within 10 years.

    I’m not advo­cat­ing that the pos­ses­sion of tobacco is ever to be made ille­gal, only that the choice to have or con­sume it pri­vately is not a com­mer­cial one; nor one endorced by social acceptance.

  20. I built one IRL. Check it out:

  21. So what about gas burn­ing cars, coal burn­ing and nuclear power plants. I guess no one is con­cerned with those things. Look into it. It’s way worse. And what about alco­hol? Ruins peo­ple. No warn­ings there. I don’t get this fix­a­tion with anti-smoking. It’s not good for you, but many things are worse, way worse. But yeah, no one cares about the other stuff.

  22. In some ways I’m not sure whether the packet design really has that much impact when some­one is seri­ously addicted to smok­ing. What smok­ers who want to quit need is a pro­gramme which shows them how to stop smok­ing
    in ways which help them man­age their stress, and improves their well-being in far more effec­tive ways than smok­ing may have appeared to do.

  23. I like the built packet of Scott Smith.

    Sorry, I for­got to paste the link of the post we done. If you like to check it, here it is:

  24. I will imme­di­ately start smok­ing. Because of these pack­ages. :D
    The goal of mak­ing them less appeal­ing has been missed, I think, because they just look even more awe­some than the orig­i­nal ones. So I really don’t know whether to praise or hate this. :D

  25. This is bril­liant, Michael. Love it.

  26. This is ridicu­lous. Peo­ple won’t stop smok­ing cause the pack­age is not appeal­ing. I’m a smoker and i’m try­ing to quit, and in my opin­ion, they just have to STOP sell­ing that shit legally to help us.

    And by the way, peo­ple take drugs even if they don’t have a pack­ag­ing so stop think­ing that design will change every­thing. This thing is addic­tive so even if the pack looks like crushed brain, smok­ers will buy it anyway.

    The prob­lem is the hypocri­sis of gov­ern­ments, cause they needs that money.

    Nice design, but really useless.

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