Opt Out: a Multi-Media Smoking Cessation Tool


Communication for Smoking Cessation

A visual communication system designed for the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) intended to reduce or cease tobacco use in the county.


  • Pair Design Project with Nurie Jeong for The Allegheny County Health Department
  • Visual Communication Studio, Fall 2015 (Instructor: Andrew Twigg)
  • My Role: Content Creation + Copywriting, Instruction Design, User Testing
  • Credit: Visual Design by Nurie Jeong

PROJECT Constraints

  • The ACHD serves a broad range of constituents on a very limited budget. Any solution must appeal to a diverse audience and be simple to implement and cost-effective.

Project Update

Following our presentation to the ACHD, the CMU School of Design, and several local tobacco related organizations, my partner and I were invited to pitch Opt Out to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Tobacco Treatment Program and are discussing opportunities to pilot the tool with admitted patients.  Additionally, the Community College of Allegheny County has expressed interest in the cards and we are currently making plans for production and distribution of the tool at their Student Health Center.

Final_Opt Out_Composite-01.jpg

The Solution

Opt Out is a versatile, multi-media tool intended to serve smokers across a range of stages of quitting.  Rather than replace the myriad programs on the market, it supplements a smoker's attempt to quit and makes the process just a bit less painful by embedding proven behavior change practices into a fun and playful tool. Opt Out considers the entire experience of quitting, addressing the ritual, ergonomic and identity issues enmeshed within a smoking practice. 

Opt Out was designed with both short and long-term goals in mind. The first roll-out, a deck of activity cards and poster series, requires few financial resources and little operational support from ACHD. As and when resources become available, an app and online community would extend the tool's scope and scale.

Activity Cards

Opt Out's primary touch-point is a deck of activity cards that provide immediate activities to replace the act of smoking. The activities were designed to take about the time it takes to smoke a smoke a cigarette and target key moments known to trigger cravings: Rise and Shine for the morning; Let’s Hang Out for social situations; On a Full Belly for after meals, Take a Break for an enjoyable distraction; While you Wait for passing time, and Push Yourself for a playful challenge.

To facilitate distribution, the entire deck of cards and an easy-to-assemble pack template and instructions were compiled into a PDF document to be hosted on the ACHD website and printed directly by users at home. 


A Better Pack

Housed in a box the size of a standard pack of cigarettes, the cards are designed for easy carrying and to serve as an ergonomic surrogate for habituated smokers.


Instruction Design

Because the pack would be printed and assembled at home, the template and instructions went through several rounds of testing and iteration to arrive at the simplest, most comprehensible version. All tests were done with basic household scissors and adhesive to resemble a likely user experience.


Poster Series

While the Opt Out cards target a range of smokers, the tool assumes that an individual has sought out help. To reach those outside the purview of the cards, either because they aren’t ready to quit or don’t identify as a smoker, a poster series was designed to be placed at strategic locations where smokers are known to gather: bus stops, bars, restaurants, break areas. Drawing on the cards’ bold visual design and fun, friendly language, the posters attract attention, provide an introduction to the idea of opting out, and push smokers to the ACHD website for more information and to download the cards.


Opt Out as an App

Finally, a digital version of the activity cards would enable more convenient, on-the-go access. While an app may not provide any ergonomic benefit, it could significantly extend the scope and scale of the physical tool. Tapping into a community of users to crowdsource ideas would allow for a constant influx of new, user-vetted activity ideas.  Moreover, allowing users to contribute to the development of the tool would increase a sense of ownership and belonging. Opt Out could also provide resources to enable real-world meeting, extending the tool's support offline. And finally, by aggregating data from the entire online community (number of cigarettes not smoked, total amount of money saved, etc.) Opt Out could situate each seemingly insignificant opt out within a larger, more meaningful context of impact.


Design Process

Exploratory Research

Because smoking was a new topic area for both myself and my partner, exploratory research formed a critical component of our design process. We began with a deep dive into the ACHD to understand the various programs they are involved in and the constituents that they serve. Then, we explored national and local smoking statistics, smoker demographics, existing laws and regulation, and the tobacco cessation ecosystem at large. We downloaded quitting apps, read forums, and familiarized ourselves with existing tools and solutions. Not only were we impressed by the number of smokers despite the well-known health effects, we were also shocked to see how many solutions, tools, and organizations already exist. With so much support available, we wondered what wasn’t working. 

Ideation: Designing an Intervention

Based on these insights, we began ideation. Our aim was to create an accessible tool with a light, approachable tone.  Rather than reinventing the wheel we envisioned a solution that would aggregate the best of smoking cessation into one fun, easy-to-use package. 

A Physical Game

While a direct approach to quitting seemed effective in some cases, we considered how cessation might be approached from a less severe angle. One idea was to design a game for smokers, their friends and family. A fun, family game would provide a useful distraction and engage a smoker's network of support. Despite these benefits, the cost and effort associated with production and distribution of a physical game proved challenging.

A Digital Tool

Next, we considered the potential of an app and online community to reach smokers at scale. Because smoking is strongly correlated with socio-economic inequality, however, we were concerned that an app would exclude some of the people most poised to benefit because they lack the necessary technology.

A Staged Intervention

Finally, we arrived at the idea of cards as a solution that would marry the fun of a game with the accessibility of an app. The small pack would be easy to carry around, provide on-the-go access, and could be customized according to each smoker’s specific needs and goals. Because they could be downloaded and printed at home, the cards would be easy to distribute and cost effective to produce. The poster series and app proposal came about as we delved deeper into this solution and identified gaps that might be filled by a multi-media approach.





Insights: Identifying the Gaps

Following our desk research, we interviewed smokers and former smokers to get a first-hand account of their successful and failed attempts to quit. A few critical insights emerged about the challenges with existing solutions.

Scare Tactics

Many campaigns focus on scare tactics and ick-factors as deterrents. Unfortunately, these tactics seem to function counter intuitively, pushing smokers to dissociate. Even positive tools often employ an overly clinical tone, distancing themselves from the very people they are trying to serve. 

Identifying as a Smoker

In part because of this very messaging and the pervasive stigma attached to the practice, many “social” or situation-specific smokers we interviewed were hesitant to be branded a “smoker.” Though they stand to benefit, this group fall outside the purview of much cessation discourse.

Routine + Ritual

For many smokers, quitting is as much about redefining a daily routine as it is about overcoming a physical addiction, and while many cessation tools focus on habit change, few provide actionable replacement behaviors.


Beyond the physical addiction and ritual component, there seems to be an ergonomic comfort associated with smoking. Cigarettes become a familiar weight smokers grow to recognize, one they notice is missing when they quit. 


Finally, a pervasive all-or-nothing mentality intimidates and excludes smokers who many simply want to reduce or control their smoking habit. Rather than total elimination, many of our interviews revealed a one-cigarette-at-a-time approach to be most successful.