Legal cannabis could be a $57 billion industry by 2027–with a vast majority of that coming from recreational marijuana. As a result, the once punchline-worthy drug is maturing into a socially acceptable business right before our eyes.
That was particularly evident as the Chicago-based cannabis company Cresco Labs raised $100 million in new private investment this October. And it’s more evident today, as the company has signed designer Scott Wilson to the role of chief experience officer. Wilson is the cannabis industry’s first big-name designer recruit, best known for his Kickstarter-breaking sensations TikTok and Lunatik. He runs the firm MNML. Before then he worked at Ideo and led design at Nike. Wilson also has a Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award, one of the nation’s highest design honors.
“If you asked me two years ago, would we be able to get the global creative director for Nike to help us bring cannabis to today’s day and age and beyond, my answer would have been, ‘no chance,'” says Cresco CEO Charlie Bachtell.
But Cresco realizes that design has a major role to play in the very near future of cannabis consumption. Until the rise of vape pens, the consumption of cannabis hadn’t changed in hundreds of years. Its branding has been largely defined by stoner culture, with tie-dyed Bob Marley portraits and product names that sound like ’70s rock records. Cresco, on the other hand, has been an early company to adopt modern packaging. And it tapped James Beard award-winning pastry chef Mindy Segal, who founded the famous Chicago restaurant Hot Chocolate, to develop an edible and elevate it into something fine enough to bring to a fancy party. “From day one, our whole objective was to bring some normalization and professionalism to the space,” says Bachtell. “We know that we haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to consumption methods, forms, the widgets associated with consumption. There are so many opportunities to improve that consumer experience.”
Wilson’s job will be to oversee all of this–to, as he puts it, “connect the dots.” That means everything from leveraging technology to better control dosing of cannabis to making the unboxing of a cannabis product accessible and delightful. It even seems possible that Cresco will create hardware to consume cannabis in a new way–at least from what I was able to gleen from discussions with Batchell and Wilson.
“It’s the culmination, convergence of everything I’ve done in the past,” says Wilson. “The white space–there’s obvious opportunities we don’t want to tip our hand on, because it is the Wild West right now.”
Wilson’s design studio MNML will stay open, and part of its resources will go to supporting design and development at Cresco. As for how Wilson spends his time: “I think I’m going to be pretty focused on this for the foreseeable future,” he says.
Indeed, the cannabis industry is a rare, untapped market for the design world. With its sudden influx of both funding and legality, don’t be surprised to see more big name designers come on board. And for cannabis consumers, that’s good news. Because as these companies compete through the lens of user experience, that will lead to better experiences for everyone.