With Tina Hardison of From the Desk of

At first glance, Tina Hardison’s biography reads like that of many graphic designers. She’s based in San Francisco, where she runs her own studio, From the Desk of. She’s worked for dreamy, prestigious clients (think Nike, Pinterest, Levi’s, Airbnb, Facebook, Apple, McSweeney’s, Chronicle Books, and we could keep going), and she lectures about design at California College of the Arts. But in the last year, Tina has been making a much-needed mark on the design side of the cannabis industry, helping new brands create identities that stand out from the ever-growing pack. She talked to us about her process, the cannabis brands that get design right, and about the concept of “weed privilege.” Follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

SMOKE BREAK: How did you get into the cannabis design realm?

Tina Hardison: I always wanted to get my hands on weed design. The first time I stepped foot in a cannabis dispensary, I was largely underwhelmed by the design experience of the whole thing. From the retail design, to the packaging, I was like “da fuck?” I used to be a big craft beer nerd, and got really into craft beer design. To me, cannabis was in the same world, but actually more important. Why wasn’t cannabis design a thing?

Last year, I hit a point in my design practice where I was doing a lot of tech work and feeling pretty uninspired. The tech culture of San Francisco was bringing me down. I moved here from North Carolina to have more career opportunities, and it felt like I was trapped working for “the tech man.” I felt trapped in a city full of rich nerds.

Cue my personal weed goddess Amy, whom I worked with at a design consultancy called IDEO. She was helping a group of cultivators up in Humboldt, now called Humboldt Legends, tell their story. She needed a designer to partner with to make it come to life, and the rest is history.

What’s your process like when you help a business — cannabis or otherwise — create an identity?

My process is pretty strategy driven. I spend a good amount of time hashing out a brand story, values, principles, mission, etc. Then I let that inform the identity design. For Humboldt Legends, I spent a lot of time up in Humboldt soaking in the place, visiting their farms, and bonding with their Cultivator. For me, it felt really important to make sure I was making something authentic and meaningful for them. In a lot of ways, building this brand was a lifetime in the making for them. They’ve lived through an unfair war on the plant. And this is their moment to “come out of the woods” and share their craft and story with the world. NO PRESSURE THO.

How is working for a cannabis business different from working for any other client you’ve worked with?

Right now, all my clients are cannabis clients. It’s different, in that I feel like this is the first time in my career where I feel like I’m working on something bigger than myself. It’s the first time I’ve really felt like my design skills can be a powerful tool for reform.

I’m not one to say “design can change the world!” But, for cannabis, I truly believe design can inspire change. Afterall, what design ultimately is, is a form of communication and education. And as more and more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana, we need to start clearly communicating and educating people what this plant is and it’s effects on our bodies. While also elevating the cannabis aesthetic so it doesn’t feel so much like a scary illegal drug.

When you’re designing for a cannabis business, what inspires you? What are some examples of good cannabis branding design? Bad?

There’s a lot of crappy grungy pot culture design out there. But that’s changing quickly. There’s some really beautifully design cannabis experiences happening over at Serra in Portland (by OMFG co), Tetra is SO posh pot but I can’t stop looking. I’m continually impressed by Kiva — mostly for their delicious product but also for their elevated design and clear dosage education.

What do your peers in the design world say when you tell them you’re helping launch a cannabis brand?

They love it. Every one loves it. Something I’ve learned through this process, is everybody loves talking about weed. But, not everybody wants to be so public about their weed love like us ladies. Sometimes I feel like a secret weed therapist. Recently I spoke at a design conference in San Diego, and after my talk I had countless people come up to me and confide in me about their secret weed lives. I’ve heard everything from “I use cannabis for cancer treatment and no one but me and my doctor know about it” to “i’m helping my son with his growing business” and “no one on earth knows this about me, but I smoke weed every morning before work in the parking lot, it helps me be creative, relax and focus.”

To me it’s so interesting seeing people feel more and more comfortable being able to speak up about their weed consumption.

How do you feel like you’re impacting Women?

THIS is a very important thing to talk about, why I love High Holidaze. Socially, us ladies are viewed as teachers, mothers, caretakers. Our culture has seen decades of Men using cannabis, but never before have Women felt empowered enough to admit they use cannabis or even feel empowered enough to try it.

I have a lot of people tell me I’m “very brave” to be so public about talking about cannabis. For me, I don’t feel like it’s an act of bravery, more so I feel like I want to say it’s okaaaay that a Woman is up here talking about the subject. You guys are doing that for Women as well.

But, I do realize i’m in a very privileged place to be able to be so public about my cannabis lifestyle. I live in a medical marijuana state, I run my own business — so i’m not at the risk of losing my job. The college I teach at is fully supportive (and my students come to hear me speak at industry events). I’m not married, and I don’t have children.

The problem is, while cannabis is federally illegal, Women who don’t have the privilege I have, even if they live in a medical legal state, will continue to view cannabis as threatening or will continue to support the black market.

I want to use design to empower Women who might be cannabis curious or already using cannabis secretly. Women carry heavy social and cultural baggage, we deserve a moment to break from that and sit back and FUCKING RELAX.

Real talk: Do you partake in cannabis for inspiration?

Hip-hop, cannabis, and coffee — the holy trinity. ∆