ARTGR520x. Project C. Visual Analysis

Visual Analysis: Cigarette package designs in Korea


This paper analyzes the graphic design on cigarette packages in Korea. For visual analyze I use two analysis methods such as content analysis and social semiotic visual analysis, those methods come from a book, Handbook of Visual Analysis, is written by Van Leeuwen, Theo, and Jewitt, Carey in 2007. Through the content analysis I compare the graphic design style on 32 cigarette packages. With social semiotic visual analysis, I analyze a new tobacco package design guide line by Korean government to recognize how the graphics interact with common person.


In Handbook of Visual Analysis (Can Leeuwen, Theo, and Jewitt, Carey. 2007), the authors explain several different methods for visual analyzing such as content analysis, visual anthropology, cultural study, semiotics and iconography, a therapeutic perspective, visual meaning, an ethnomedhodologically approach, and analyzing film and TV. For this study, I chose content analysis and social semiotic approach to analyze the graphic designs on cigarette packages in Korea.

Figure 1. 32 cigarette package designs in Korea.
Content analysis

Content analysis is a systematic, observational method used for testing hypotheses about the ways in which the media represent people, events, situations, and so on. It allows quantification of samples of observable content classified into distinct categories. It does not analyze individual images or individual visual texts. Instead, it allows description of fields of visual representation by describing the constituents of one or more defined areas of representation, periods or types of images. To observe and quantify categories of content it is first necessary to define relevant variables of representation and/or salience. Then, on each variable, values can be distinguished to yield the categories of content which are to be observed and quantified. A content variable is any such dimension (size, color, range, position on a page or in a new bulletin); or any range of options of a similar type which could be substituted for each other. In content analysis, a variable refers to aspects of how something is represented, no to ‘reality’. A variable consists of what we will call value. These are elements which are of the same logical kind. Contents analysis begins with the definition of relevant variables and of the values on each. For my study about the cigarette packages, I set variables first such as background color, typefaces, graphic styles, linguistics, the size of alert window, and mood of design. Once I set these variables, I observed package designs to find values per each variable. For the background color variable, I got four different variables such as white, solid dark, solid bright, and gradient color is used for the package design. For another variable, typeface, I found that serif, calligraphy, san-serif, and modern lettering styles are used for packages. For graphic variable, illustration, decorative graphic, simple graphic, and typography is founded as variables. For Linguistic variable, almost packages used English with Chinese, Korean, or numbers. For the size of alert window, there are three different sizes. For mood of design, there are type of mood I found such as Old/Traditional and Young/ Modern (Table 1. Variables and values of cigarette package in Korea). To get more detailed quantitative analysis, percentage analysis is used per each variable and value. For background color 50% packages use pure white background color, 22% use solid dark color, 16% use solid bright color, and 12% package designs use gradient color for package design (Table 2). For the typeface on the package, 44% use serif, another 44% use san-serif, 6% use calligraphy, and modern style lettering is used for 6% packages (Table 2). For graphic style, 6% use illustration, 15% use decorative graphics, 66% use simple graphic with brand symbol, and 13% use typography for cigarette package design (Table 3). For linguistic variable, 100% of packages use English primarily, but 3% use English with Chinese letter, another 3% use it with Korean letter, and 9% use it with numbers (Table 3). For Alert window, 25% has no alert window on the front side of package, 1/3 size window on 43% packages, and 2/5 size window on 32% packages (Table 4). For overall feeling, mood, 58% of packages look like old and traditional, and other 42% look like young and modern. As a conclusion, depend on who the target customers are, packages use different style of background color, graphic style, language, and typeface, to create a better mood for the customers.

Table 1. Variables and Values of cigarette packages in Korea.
Table 2. Background color & Typeface
Table 3. Graphic and Linguistic
Table 4. Alert window size and Mood
Social semiotic visual analysis
Figure 2. Tobaco package design guideline by Korean Government.

The author says that there are kinds of ‘rules’ for social semiotic, from laws and mandatory prescriptions to ‘best practice’, the influence of role models, expert advice, common habits, and so on. Two points needed to be made social semiotic influence. First, ‘power’, ‘detachment’, ‘involvement’, and so on, are not ‘the’ meaning of these angles. They are an attempt to describe a meaning potential, a field of possible meanings, which need to be activated by the producers and viewers of images. Secondly, symbolic relations are not real relations, and it is precisely this which makes point of view a semiotic resource. Images can create particular relations between viewers and the world inside the picture frame. In this way, they interact with viewers and suggest the attitude viewers should take towards what is being represented. With this method, I analyze the new design policy for cigarette package design in Korea that was started on December 23, 2016. Cigarette packs in Korea would be sporting one of 10 graphic images showing the harmful effects of smoking. A diseased lung, a hole in a throat, and rotten teeth were among the 10 pictorial warnings unveiled by the Ministry of Health and Welfare earlier this year. The Ministry of Health and Welfare is hoping to cut the smoking rate of men to 29% by 2020. However, I’ve found a lot of my friends’ post on Facebook related this design policy. They said that “I don’t want to see this terrible picture, when I get a cigar pack. So, I will buy an awesome cigarette case to avoid see it”. It was pretty interesting reaction how the images interact with people in real world, sometime it doesn’t work as designers or governments expect to society.



Van Leeuwen, Theo, and Jewitt, Carey. Handbook of Visual Analysis. London: SAGE Publications, 2007. Print.


  1. Casey

    Your researching and analytical skills here are very apparent. Your data is very clear and I think you took a really good approach to this assignment. I like how you kind of almost set this up like a science project where you had a really clear hypothesis, you did research, and then you came to a conclusion using the prompted materials provided (The Visual Analysis Handbook). I think your subject matter is interesting because there are a lot of questions you could ask about Korean cigarette packaging; why are they so elegant? Why do they all appear to be flavored? Who is their target market? How would a side-by-side comparison of our cigarette packaging look? Overall I think your presentation was concise and your goals for the project were met.

  2. Nancy A

    I don’t smoke but I can’t decide whether I like this cigarette packaging more or whether I like the “American way” of packaging. I suppose that’s part of the appeal, to entice people with pretty images first. (Even if some people’s reason for smoking are completely at opposite with the branding.) The American cigarettes tend to have passionate colors like red and vibrant colors like yellow, with designs that straddle the line between fancy and masculine like Marlboro, or even funny like the Camel brand once upon a time. In fact, I remember the Camel brand more from my childhood BECAUSE of the Camel character:

    With these Korean cigarettes, I see more a line towards sophisticated and cool. An almost airy sense of feeling. It’d be interesting to see the history behind Korean packaging, and see how they arrived at this point in time. I still find it curious that they use English, much like how some Japanese companies use English in order to attract people (because it looks “exotic”.)

  3. Pingback: ProjectD_Comments on Blog | LY

Comments are closed.