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Packaging, like a form of fashion, has trends that come and go annually, if not quarterly.
But these trends aren't just about the visual design of packaging; the same way fashion trends aren't always about the visual appearance of the garment.
The shape, material and that design's place in the bigger scheme of the business and society play a massive role.
And, despite the quandaries that 2020 has thrown at everyone, packaging design grew and evolved in its way.
As a company that sold custom packaging to over 33,000 customers in 2020, we've seen quite a few trends that will set the scene for 2021.
In this article, Packhelp's team of experts share their observations in packaging design from 2020, and we predict what we'll see more of in 2021.
Design and sustainability go hand in hand.
When you think about sustainable packaging, there's every chance that your mind immediately goes to cutting edge materials technology, like Ikea's use of mushroom-based packaging.
While 2020 saw a massive uptake in the use of sustainable packaging, it wasn't the material that led the initiative, but rather packaging's product lifecycle in the design process.
Artur Oboleński, head of Packhelp's R&D facility says that many brands took steps to reduce emissions and protect the environment simply through effective packaging design.
Packhelp assisted many brands in increasing the sustainability of their packaging by letting the packaging's EOL (end of life cycle) stage affect its initial design.
This was achieved in a variety of ways, namely using as little packaging material as possible, and using certified recyclable packaging.
This shift in attitude coincides with the EU's Ecodesign Directive, aimed at improving the energy efficiency and sustainability of products and lowering the dependence on unsustainable materials.
A fine example of this shift in packaging design can be seen in British telco, Raylo.
The brand found a 20% decrease in weight and an 11% decrease in cost by merely using packaging that was tailor-made from the ground up, specific for their application and business goals.
Patterns and continuity
Many brands that relied on Packhelp this year used a pattern as the core of their packaging design.
After launching our range of customisable patterns, we noticed many brands changing their existing packaging designs for a pattern-based design.
Using the online designer, you can pick from dozens of existing patterns and customise them in an almost endless amount of ways.
And the creativity that we saw from our users was indescribable!
Patterns are a fantastic design element because if done right, they can give the feeling of a completely different texture than cardboard.
Print certain patterns in the colours and add a matte finish and you can create a fantastic feeling of depth, too.
There's a certain beauty in imperfection, and perfection isn't perfect for many demographics.
Counter-culture has created a large market for brands to thrive on rough, raw, rugged design, as well as branding of the same calibre.
But imperfection can also invoke feelings of purity, simplicity and emotion, as you can see below from Halbuki and their use of paper cans:
Whether it's the personal touch of barely readable handwriting or the wear and tear of a shape that's been beaten up, imperfection can build trust and even add a sense of exclusiveness to a brand.
In 2020, we saw many brands take their rough, asymmetric and imperfect branding and put it front and centre on their packaging.
The creative use of doypacks
In 2020, we saw many brands from many different industries decide that a standup pouch was an innovative form of custom packaging for their brand.
The Packhelp team noticed that food brands loved their doypacks, but they were also used as packaging for clothes, most commonly, socks.
The team also saw that it was a common form of CBD oil packaging.
As the hemp, cannabis and CBD industry continues to grow thanks to governments changing their stance on this material, look for doypacks to only increase in versatility in 2021.
Immersive and branded unboxing experiences.
We all know what branding is - it's the way that your brand visually labels and presents itself to the world.
And we all know that branding belongs on your website, product, social channels, and, of course, your packaging.
But there's more to an unboxing experience than a branded box.
It's about creating a branded experience around your product.
And the best way to do that is to ensure that everything in your packaging has been customised.
Of course, there's the packaging itself, which should no doubt have your branding both inside and out.
Tissue paper to wrap up delicate products is also another branded opportunity - but it doesn't just have to be your logo that's repeated over and over.
Take the geometry of your logo and expand it into a pattern.
Branded tape to seal closed your box is a tiny little addition, but it shows that you pay close attention to the finest branding details.
Any thank you cards, warranty forms and instruction manuals should also have your branding on it.
Even freebies such as stickers should have your logo to help level-up your unboxing experience.
As more of us will default to online shopping in 2021, expect the importance of a quality unboxing experience to become essential, rather than 'nice to have'.
The human form
Branding designers are starting to realise that people like to look at other people.
The shape a human and their face is a trend that's being used in branding and packaging design alike.
We've seen this happen a lot using an intricate caricature, but as well as a single, delicate line.
As nothing but glorified monkeys, humans are hard-wired to notice shapes we're familiar with, and the human form and face are just some of them.
Using these shapes advantageously on your packaging design is a trend that we'll see as more brands try to create an emotional connection with their consumers.
Switching to sustainable materials
Materials technology was something that the Packhelp team saw taken up by brands of all shapes and sizes.
More companies are stepping away from their dependence on plastic packaging, as well as multi-material packaging solutions.
The uptake of easy to recycle mono-material packaging was a trend that the Packhelp team believes will set a precedent in 2021.
Biopolymers were also a common request, as brands that sell biodegradable and compostable materials require packaging of a similar property.
Fibre-based materials and non-wood fibre also grew in popularity, with the most sought after alternative materials being leaves, bamboo and sugarcane.
It's worth noting that these materials are byproducts of other processes, thus removing the overall waste of the initial product.
The most common theme amongst many brands implementing sustainable materials was the fact that they were replacing the materials of an existing design, rather than redesigning from the ground up.
This goes to show that merely changing packaging materials is arguably the best thing a brand's packaging can do for the environment.
Many returning Packhelp customers have also become a part of Packhelp's collaboration with One Tree Planted; a free service that replants trees in deforested areas based on the quantity of packaging you buy.
Almost 97% of these brands place a 'tree' badge on both their packaging and website to tell their customers more about their sustainable packaging decisions.
A second chance at life
In a move that was not predicted at the beginning of 2020, more brands have started to work reusability into their packaging design.
We've seen several brands design their packaging to solve the problem of something other than packaging.
Some examples include:
- Packaging that doubles as a dollhouse
- The blank-canvas for a colouring-in competition
- Packaging to sprout seeds in
All these ideas have come from forward-thinking brands who assess how a relatively customisable and robust cardboard box can be part of an experience that involves their product.
Cardboard boxes like this not only add value to your product but also carry the environmental benefit of staying out of recycling plants until necessary.
Product safety amid the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic and consumer's apprehension about surfaces being touched by numerous individuals has also affected the way some brands design packaging.
Packaging design has been adapted to meet both the physical and psychological need for more hygienic packaging.
This sentiment has been reflected in the increase of packaging with tamper-evident seals and traceable tracking options.
Several brands have also shifted from plastic packaging to cardboard-based packaging, as the virus lasts a maximum of 24 hours (as opposed to 72 hours) on fibre-based packaging.
Sustainability has been the overwhelming theme that the Packhelp team has seen throughout 2020.
A notable mention goes to the increased need for security and hygiene, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
It's safe to say that, thanks to both local legislation and buyer preference, sustainability in packaging design will only grow to be more important throughout 2021.
With the 'new normal' being unclear at best, consumers are also going to want packaging that meets their hygienic needs.
Whether you'd like to make your packaging more sustainable in the New Years or explore hygienic packaging options, Packhelp's design experts can help you create the ideal packaging solution for your business's needs.