October 2012

Arts & Letters

The Best of Australian Design 2012

By Nadia Wagner
Plain tobacco packaging, Australian Government, 2012. Image supplied.

Disillusioned with a life of seeking the applause of advertising executives, the designer Ken Garland wrote the First Things First manifesto in 1963. Undersigned by two dozen of his peers, it called for designers to invest their energies in tasks that promote the betterment of society, rather than using their talents to sell cat food, detergent, hair restorer and cigarettes. It’s taken half a century, but now a politician has achieved the design breakthrough Garland demanded.

The draft legislation was ushered into existence in 2011 by health minister Nicola Roxon, who received a special recognition certificate from the World Health Organization that same year. The plain packaging legislation will come into force before the end of this year, making Australia the first country in the world to successfully bring in the law. We’re praising design on two levels: it’s the next episode in Australia’s relatively glowing record in harm minimisation (one engineered well enough to survive an assault in the High Court) as well as a new, brilliant instance of packaging design.

Take the conventional cigarette box. It’s one of the most highly designed objects a smoker is likely to handle in the course of a day: the colours, the embossed lettering, the way it feels to the hands, the angle of the flip-top lid. Unlike many consumer goods, the packaging that accompanies cigarettes is not designed to be thrown out on opening, but continues to accompany the user for the lifespan of the product – to be touched, displayed and fondled. Moreover, the appearance of the package signals the smoker’s identification with a particular demographic. Cigarettes are ‘badge products’, selling a lifestyle as much as they promise nicotine and shortness of breath.

The new plain packaging, however, is not so much an ‘undesign’ as a radical redesign. With its drab olive-coloured box, its subtly mis-sized sans serif typography and garish health warnings, it almost forces furtive consumption. It’s very hard to make a drug ‘bad’ without making it ‘sexy’. The carefully ungainly design of the new box achieves this perfectly.

Nadia Wagner
Nadia Wagner is a lecturer in the School of Design at University of Technology Sydney.

From the front page

Image of Lisa McCune, Zahra Newman and Peter Carroll appearing on stage in Girl from the North Country. Image © Daniel Boud.

‘Girl from the North Country’

Weaving Bob Dylan songs into a story of Depression-era hardship, Conor McPherson’s musical speaks to the broken America of today

Image of fans taking a selfie with a photo of tennis star Novak Djokovic ahead of first round matches at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Image © Hamish Blair / AP Photo

‘Health and good order’

If Novak Djokovic is “a talisman of anti-vaccination sentiment”, what does that make George Christensen?

Image of coal for export, Newcastle, NSW

The fossil-fuel industry’s grip on Australian hearts and minds

Is there hope that public misconceptions of the importance of coal and gas can be overcome?

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Echidna poo has changed our understanding of human evolution

Citizen science is not only helping echidna conservation, but changing how we think about evolution

In This Issue

'Lore' by Cate Shortland (director)

'Silent House', Orhan Pamuk, Hamish Hamilton; $29.99

'Silent House' by Orhan Pamuk

'Questions of Travel', Michelle de Kretser,
Allen and Unwin; $39.99

'Questions of Travel' by Michelle de Kretser

'Montebello', Robert Drewe, Hamish Hamilton; $29.99

'Montebello' by Robert Drewe


More in Arts & Letters

Still from ‘No Time To Die’

The Bond market: ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time To Die’

Blockbuster season begins with a middling 007 and a must-see sci-fi epic

Abbotsford I

New poetry, after lockdowns

Bing Crosby and David Bowie on Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, circa 1977.

Oh, carols!

The music of Christmas, from the manger to the chimney

Image of Gerald Murnane

Final sentence: Gerald Murnane’s ‘Last Letter to a Reader’

The essay anthology that will be the final book from one of Australia’s most idiosyncratic authors


More in The Best of Australian Art 2012

The Best of Australian Arts 2012

The Pigram Brothers. © Helen Jedwab

The Best of Australian Popular Music 2012

Composer Brett Dean © Pawel Kopczynski

The Best of Australian Concert Music 2012

The Best of Australian Arts 2012


Online exclusives

Image of Lisa McCune, Zahra Newman and Peter Carroll appearing on stage in Girl from the North Country. Image © Daniel Boud.

‘Girl from the North Country’

Weaving Bob Dylan songs into a story of Depression-era hardship, Conor McPherson’s musical speaks to the broken America of today

Still from ‘The Worst Person in the World’, showing Anders Danielsen Lie as Aksel and Renate Reinsve as Julie. Image courtesy Everett Collection.

‘The Worst Person in the World’

Renate Reinsve is exceptional in Joachim Trier’s satisfying Nordic rom-com

Image of WA Premier Mark McGowan earlier this week announcing the state will reopen its border to the rest of the country on February 5, after almost two years of border closures. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Family’s grief compounded by WA’s hard border

The awful predicament of a Melbourne family unable to bring home their son’s body shows the callousness of WA’s border policy

Image of Liliane Amuat and Henriette Confurius in Ramon and Sylvan Zürcher’s film The Girl and the Spider. Image supplied

The best of 2021 on screen

This year may have been difficult to live through, but it produced an extraordinary crop of films