On June 15th, Big Rock Partners hosted a panel for San Francisco Design Week. We tapped into our network of friends, portfolio companies, and advisory clients to gather a quartet of experts with unique insight into both design and cannabis. The hour-long conversation, moderated by Big Rock’s Phil Flickinger, yielded some great insights into brand-building, product design, packaging, and more.


Here are our panelists and some of the wisdom they shared:


Trevor Hubbard is CEO and Executive Creative Director of Butchershop, one of San Francisco’s premier design agencies. (Check out their recap of the panel here.)


How the notion of ‘design’ needs to be expanded:

“The market is demanding a different type of creative now… we’ve been able to not only help companies with the ‘low-fidelity’ things, like the way things look, and packaging and stuff like that, but really now using data and analytics to leverage new products and new markets.”


How cannabis is attracting new consumers, and how startups are adapting:

“What you have is a very different product audience now. It’s expanding. It’s changing… The idea that ‘brand is everything’ is being indoctrinated across a vertical, that just wasn’t there before. You’re building brands, but you’re also building products that are making [cannabis] accessible to a larger swath of people.”


Advice for designers looking to enter the industry:

“In cannabis, you’ve got to abandon the fact that your skillset as a craft designer is relevant. Because it’s not. That’s sort of table stakes. What’s really valuable is that you know the industry, you know the regulations, you know all of the things that are the pitfalls… Put your design skills aside, and become an expert in the industry and what is needed, so that when you have conversations, you’re not talking about subjectivity in design, you’re talking about why you’re valuable to deliver something that’s gonna work.”


Amanda Denz is CMO and co-founder of Sava, a curated cannabis ecommerce marketplace serving the extended Bay Area. 


How product & package design have improved:

“Now we see a lot of [cannabis brands] that have professional, clean modern design. I think a big change was in 2018, with recreational legalization, a lot of investors were comfortable coming into the space, so people had capital to invest in things like branding & design.”


How cannabis is attracting new consumers:

“There is this whole new world of products to try now, that are really different from five years ago, really different from ten years ago. We wanted to open people’s eyes to that… give them a little permission to think cannabis is something they could try.”


Having cannabis products deliver an experience: 

“When someone consumes a cannabis product, they’re expecting an experience. They’re going to have an experience, whether that’s just relief of pain, or relaxation, or getting a little buzz. I think that it’s important when designing anything for cannabis, to make that expectation really clear, so that people have that experience they’re expecting, and then they trust you. And they want to come back, and explore more.”


Daniel Stein is CEO of Essential Good, an agency designed and built to service the cannabis industry and other fast-moving, progressive new categories.


The increasing importance of strong brands:

“In the old days, [dispensaries] could sell loose flower, which people would smell, and they could look at, and they could hold. And the budtenders would pull it out of a candy jar with chopsticks, and you could really see what you were buying. Post adult use, everything has to be sealed, and in a jar or box, and you really can’t get the same experience you did before, so ‘brand’ becomes that much more important.” 


Where to invest marketing dollars:

“We tell our clients ‘if you have a relatively small marketing budget, put it all into the sales channel. Put it all into demos, and ambassadors, and budtender education, and retail displays.”


The importance of having a good brand story:

“Budtenders love to tell stories… if they believe in your story– and they share values with your story– they’ll sell your brands, day-in and day-out.”


Dave Evans is co-founder of Optimist, a pre-launch cannabis brand bringing a smart vaporizer (and more) to market:


What cannabis brands should strive for:

“The holistic end-to-end experience is really critical… a brand is more than just a logo and packaging, it needs to be something people can actually get behind.”


Standing out on dispensary shelves:

“Design and brand can only take you so far… when you go into a dispensary, it’s an intimidating experience.”


The importance of vetting potential partners in the industry:

“If you’re a designer or design agency and you’re looking to work with people in cannabis, or make a difference in cannabis, I think it’s really important to vet whomever it is you’re working with, and really make sure that they align with your goals as a business or as an individual.”



Thank you to the crew at SFDW, the technical team from Crowdcast, and everyone who tuned in to listen!