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Keeping up with the latest product packaging design trends can feel a bit like high school. Every year there seem to be new, hip, and edgy ways to make a packaging statement. These trends in packaging make you feel as if you need to either keep up or move away from the “cool kids.”
We’re here to tell you that while trendy packaging design ideas may garner media attention, trendiness in product packaging only sometimes leads to greater revenues from retail store shelves. While we recommend that you review the latest packaging design trends when during your concept phase, leave the final verdict to packaging design testing. Test to determine how these packaging trends impact consumer purchase intent and whether they help your product stand out on store shelves.
Here’s a look at trendy packaging in 2023 and our experience helping brands decide which of these top packaging design trends is worthy of packaging consideration.
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Sustainable Packaging Materials
According to National Geographic, 18 billion pounds of plastic enter the ocean every year, and there’s a floating plastic patch in the Pacific Ocean roughly the size of Texas. Sustainability isn’t just a packaging design trend; it’s a global trend. More and more people are becoming environmentally aware, opting to reduce our carbon footprints to create a more sustainable future.
One way to accomplish this is by reducing packaging waste. The trend toward sustainability has created a massive anti-plastic movement that’s taken hold around the world. Using plastic packaging isn’t cool anymore. It makes businesses seem out of touch and anti-environmental (and how could anyone be against the Earth?).
Many brands are swapping out their harmful, anti-sea turtle plastic packaging for more environmentally friendly materials that are biodegradable, recyclable, or reusable:
Sustainability is quickly surpassing the level of being a packaging design trend and is becoming a packaging design expectation. People don’t want to see plastic on retail shelves. Swap to more sustainable packaging materials to keep up with the times and save some PR points.
Since sustainability is more of an expectation, like other white noise terms such as organic and non-GMO, shelf differentiation becomes more complex. Shifting towards sustainability from a marketing angle is the wrong move. If you have better intentions but want sustainability to be a part of your brand resonance, you must spin your messaging in a new way.
Otherwise, it becomes a part of your brand story that nobody remembers. How can you innovatively approach sustainability? What does your brand do differently from other brands? How can you express these innovations and differences on your package so that it creates consumer interest?
These are all questions to ask when going all-in on this packaging design trend.
Transparent Packaging Material
Transparency through windows and product wrapping has been a part of the packaging industry for decades and is a common design element used in food packaging design. But transparent packaging is seeing a resurgence thanks to the demand for transparency in ingredients, the minimalist design trend, and innovations in custom packaging.
The downside to transparent packaging is that the more consumers see your products, the less you can convince them with messaging. Using transparent materials is like walking a tightrope with your design. Having a skilled packaging designer who can consider each viewpoint to determine how design elements interact with the natural product, is the only way for this trend to work.
Natural, Earthy Colors
Along with eliminating environment-harming plastics, many brands are taking the eco-trend further by using natural, earthy colors.
Earth tones have been popular in niche industries like organic foods and are common with cosmetics packaging. But lately, brands outside the organic market are using natural colors to capitalize on the sustainability movement.
Because organic products have been using that color palette for years, it’s become synonymous with “healthy” and “natural.” Use colors like low-saturated browns, blues, and greens to show off your sustainable product packaging and your brand’s dedication to the Earth.
In many ways, we have entered the creative economy. Even the left-brain oriented individual is becoming more expressive throughout their daily lives. In packaging, the lines between creativity and commerce are blurring, changing the landscape and where brands play.
Creative illustrations will continue to rise in popularity as we enter CPG in web 3.0, and many brands are taking notice. Whether it’s new companies wanting a creative brand identity with illustrative graphics or established brands reinvent themselves with updated illustration methods, an increasing number of brands are leaning into this.
The trend for hand-written typography, graphic design resembling more of a sketch, and cartoonish characters are a joy to view, but do they belong on consumer packaged goods? Using illustrations in packaging design depends on the category and competitive landscape. Shelf differentiation is impossible if you look like everyone else.
Suppose illustration is a part of your design theme; perform testing to determine which of these brand assets have the greatest appeal and that you can include without cluttering the package. Reserve your package design for only what is distinct and definitive, then let the messaging drive consumers pick up your product from the shelf.
Clean and Simple Minimalist Designs
Minimalism is nothing new. Minimalistic themes have been in art since the 1950s. Brands like Apple and Nike have used them since their inception. The minimalism trend has come and gone several times but seems to have now found a permanent home in select CPG categories.
Minimalist packaging designs create a direct, no-frills experience with a product. Crazy designs or patterns do not overwhelm customers who look at your packaging. Everything is straight to the point. It shows cleanliness, neatness, organization, and clarity-all things that make consumers feel warm and fuzzy.
The difficulty with minimalist designs comes with differentiating your brand from the pack. How will you stand out from the neighboring product if the category theme is a plain, white layout with a black serif font? Hard to do when your packaging follows the same pattern.
Many brands incorporate color into their minimalist designs, helping them break away from the pack. Some brands like Denada Sugar-Free Ice Cream use alternating natural earth tones (double design trend!) to help them stand out. In contrast, others like Quaker Oats take a brighter approach by adding a splash of exuberant color to their minimalist designs so they stand out on the shelves.
Some brands decided that minimalism was so last year and have gone in the opposite direction.
Maximalism is a more recent trend in the product design industry that involves everything in excess. These “more is better” packaging designs have more frills, bright colors, flourishes, and clashing patterns to give consumers a feast for the eyes. In categories where minimalism has become the norm, when compared to the competition, maximalist designs can make products seem exceptional.
Brands that embrace the idea of maximalism, like Star Union Spirits, fill as much packaging space as possible with patterns, typography, and colors. It’s a bold move, but sometimes, bold moves are the ones people remember.
Retro Styling With Throwback Appeal
Things aren’t always great in the modern-day. That’s why many brands are leaning on retro designs that evoke nostalgia. The old-timey trends remind people of a simpler time before cell phones, and laptops ruled their lives.
Retro styling makes products seem steady and enduring, like they’ve stood the test of time. It gives consumers a sense of security and invokes feelings of the good old days.
Brands with long histories can especially capitalize on a vintage design with retro styling by taking cues from their old packaging designs, although a long history isn’t a requirement. Many contemporary companies like Sonoma Brothers Distilling use retro designs to sell products. Although its website and packaging look retro, the company began in 2012.
Since retro covers many eras, a vintage design can include one or more of the other packaging design trends. Those whose brand identity latches onto proprietors of the 1920s may cross-pollinate stylistic typography with a minimal design. Brands looking to identify with the 1950s may include flat colors, thick fonts, and “to-die-for” messaging.
Brands looking to match a particular time must be cautious with subjectivity in the packaging design process. Consumers may disagree with your design choice, causing your products to become vintage in their own right as it appears more like shelf-stagnant art.
Tactile texturing in packaging design is a trend on which only some brands are capitalizing. That sounds contradictory as a popular trend, but a lack of brand acceptance suggests it isn’t. The limiting factor for textured packaging is the cost. Raised typography isn’t free and can slow down the supply chain.
Supply chain issues are a no-no for big-name brands with significant product demand. It’s also a no-go for small brands with limited capital that cannot justify the added cost.
With careful planning, cross-team communication, and a brand strategy to support additional costs and labor demands, textured packaging can increase your shelf conversation rate. Unlike trends encouraging consumers to pull your product off shelves, textured packaging increases your conversation rate at the point of buyer consideration.
Advancements in customization technology and consumer demand for “how does this benefit me” make personalization a packaging trend for every brand must consider. Whether personalization is a custom packaging design targeting a specific consumer or designs that solve a problem, personalizing your product creates a deeper-rooted reason for buying your product.
Let’s use the hypothetical example of a brand selling premium organic small-batch roasted coffee. This brand creates a customized packaging box made of recyclable materials reusable as a small pot for plants. When you connect the packaging experience dots, this brand creates a personalized experience for the consumer who enjoys at-home leisure.
Smart packaging is a CPG marketing trend that crosses over to packaging design. Serving two purposes, smart packaging technologies such as QR codes can improve the packaging experience and lead to future consumer interaction.
One food packaging design trend is using smart packaging to take consumers to done-for-you recipes. In a more advanced use of technology, brands are preparing for an immersive experience where consumers go from package to augmented reality.
Smart packaging is more than a design trend; it’s a brand strategy that can come at a small or ever-growing cost. Look to the future if you consider connected packaging, where consumers take your product into a digital world. Consider both the advancements and the amount of capital and resources needed to keep this design element alive and well.
Keep Up with the Latest Packaging Design Trends
Packaging design trends change with the seasons. One year, bold geometric designs and clashing colors are in; the next, it’s all earth tones and minimalism. If you want your packaging to stay relevant, it’s all about sustainability, earth tones, minimalism, maximalism, and retro styling.
Since some 2023 packaging design trends seem to clash (looking at you, minimalism, and maximalism), ensure you learn what speaks to your customers. A maximalist trend may not be the best bet if you’re a natural product brand looking to show how clean and organic you are. Learn what your customers like, then use the latest trends to influence the rest of your decisions.
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