Every year, marketers write a wish list for the months to come. It isn’t the new Apple Watch or a better cup of office coffee that they covet, but product packaging so engaging that it will leap off the shelves, turning shoppers into customers, and customers into loyal fans. When you’ve got mere moments to convert a consumer, after all, the look and color of the design on the box can be just as important as what’s inside.
With this in mind, many brands and designers look to packaging design trends to guide them. Market intelligence agency Mintel’s Global Packaging Trends 2016 report named environmentally responsible packaging, which comes part and parcel with a green “look,” as one of the top innovations that emerged this year.
Package design and branding resource The Dieline, meanwhile, pointed to vintage styling and a “retro color palette” in its 4 Emerging Packaging Design Trends of 2016 report.
There’s inspiration in other industries, too—especially when it comes to selecting colors. Let’s take a look at four key trends that are still going strong, and how to apply them to your consumers packaged goods.
From cars to cosmetics, metallics were hot this year. Chevrolet launched two new metallic exterior paint colors, while TV celebrity and model Kylie Jenner introduced a metallic lipstick. What’s the appeal to consumers? It’s simple: Metallics project quality and luxury.
“Metallics are (often) used in the context of spirits and beer packaging. In cosmetics, they are common within the high-end luxury products,” explains the creative team at Koniak Design, a branding consultancy and design studio based in Tel Aviv, Israel. One such product is Dead Clean, a premium line of skincare used in boutique hotels, spas, and restaurants across Europe. Koniak Design developed Dead Clean’s packaging by pairing metallic shades of sand and jewel tones with white space.
“The design was mainly inspired by the material potency of the Dead Sea terrain,” the Koniak Design team says. “We were interested in the idea of metallics printed as a dirty stain. This seemed like an exotic mix that would emphasize the unique qualities of the product.”
The company adds that the negative white space represents “a clean, purifying product” and “balances the drama of the stains.” The polished metallic colors are also meant to reference the salt crystals found in the Dead Sea, as well as in the product.
For specialty chocolate brand Vosges Haut-Chocolat, the luxuriousness of metallic colors made this palette the ideal choice for holiday collection packaging. The company says it hopes the use of gold conveys the texture and luxurious details of the chocolate itself, which includes premium ingredients like bee pollen and 12-year cask-aged balsamic vinegar from Modena.
“Vosges Haut-Chocolat is a chocolate experience,” a spokesperson for the Chicago-based company says. “Every detail from the packaging to the shipping experience, storytelling through the medium of chocolate, our superior source ingredients, and the chocolate itself contributes to the entire luxury chocolate experience.” The gold accents also complement the brand’s signature deep purple, which features prominently on all Vosges packaging.
If you’ve noticed an uptick in illustrated labels lately, you’ve been paying attention. Illustrations can be found on packaging for everything from Fort Point Beer Company beer, which features geometric drawings, to sweets from Fortnum & Mason, which recently launched a new biscuit product whose packaging features intricate illustrations in various color schemes. According to Irish commercial artist Steve Simpson, though, illustration isn’t a trend but a return to the ways of old.
In the ’80s, Simpson explains, the printing process didn’t yet deliver the quality many companies were looking for, so illustration was a common choice. As the technology advanced, people gravitated toward photography’s “fresh and sexy” look. “It’s taken us a while,” he says, “but we’re now exploring illustration again. I think it’s a rebalancing.”
Over the course of his 30-year career, Simpson has illustrated and designed labels and packaging for such brands as Jameson Irish Whiskey, Chilly Moo frozen yogurt, and hot sauce company Mic’s Chilli. When it’s done well, he says, illustration can jump off the package to catch the consumer’s eye, and even turn products into decorative pieces that buyers are eager to display. In the case of Mic’s Chilli, for example, the brand wanted a design that looked as appealing on the dining table as on the shelf. Simpson’s solution was to illustrate the whole label, right down to the bar code. “It’s kind of a craft approach, like the (pre-computer) work done in the ’50s and ’60s,” he says.
In illustration, he says, “color is hugely important; however it’s not just the color, it’s the also tones.” Simpson typically employs a limited palette that “makes a product stand out,” beginning with the brand’s existing color scheme. “But this can also be fluid,” he notes. “Rather than using the exact Pantone refs, I will bend them slightly to make them work for the illustration, and often add another (shade) if I need it.”
Simpson’s illustration process, which he documents on Instagram, goes something like this: After interviewing clients about their target audience and marketing objectives, he sketches ideas for initial feedback, goes through several rounds of pencil drawings, and finally introduces color. “When I start working on the final artwork, I’m less particular about the color and tone; I simply fill shapes,” he says. “It’s only when I get to a point where I can see the overall picture taking shape that I go back and balance them.”
Simpson likens this to tuning a guitar: “Getting the right tone, harmonic, and occasionally vibration between the hues.” He rarely uses black or solid white.
With renewed interest in illustrated labels and traditional design techniques, comes an interest in vintage style. Art and design site Creative Bloq named vintage design one of the five biggest design trends for 2016. “It’s an obvious choice for brands that want to convey their staying power, artisanal qualities and associate themselves with the glory days of a bygone era,” the Creative Bloq Staff wrote back in March.
The vintage trend is particularly popular among food brands, where it can evoke a sense ofnostalgia. Utah-based ice cream brand Red Button Vintage Creamery, which launched in 2015, uses candy stripes and a classic red, white, and aquamarine color scheme to channel an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. Earlier this year, M&M’s launched 12 retro yellow and chocolate brown packaging designs from the 1940s to the 1990s to commemorate the brand’s 75th anniversary.
In New Zealand, Dr. Feelgood popsicles pairs vintage-style typography with cardboard packaging for an altogether different reason: To highlight the product’s healthful ingredients. Company founder Craig Jackson says the use of natural cardboard is an effort to emphasize the popsicles’ artisanal production process along with the company’s roots. “In this country back when I was a boy, ice cream came in cardboard,” he says.
The task of designing the package and colors itself fell to Jackson’s partner Melanie Bridge, who is also a commercial film director. The colors used are soft and natural and reflect the flavor of the product (here too, red and white candy strips reminiscent of ice cream parlors play a part). According to Jackson, the overall design was inspired by the brand’s old-fashioned values. Consumers sense that the product is homemade, and that pays off in a big way
With its natural packaging Dr. Feelgood capitalizes on not one, but two trends: Vintage and environmentally friendly design. As Mintel pointed out in its trend report, natural and sustainable packaging is currently in high demand.
Dr. Feelgood’s Jackson considers “green” packaging to be a perfect fit for the brand. “It’s commercial and sustainable, so it made sense to go this way.” He notes the use of recyclable, earth-friendly cardboard helps to impart Dr. Feelgood’s all-natural value proposition to consumers.
Brands like Ikea are also experimenting with natural packaging and “healthy” colors — green, white, and cardboard-brown — that go along with it. The furniture company announced in February that it’s exploring the use of natural fungi packaging, as well. Also this year, Harmless Harvest Coconut Water cut down on the plastic in its packaging while maintaining its fresh and natural white-and-green design.
Trends don’t hold all the answers for brands looking to improve their packaging — but in a world of near-endless color and design options, it’s sure nice to have a starting point. Whether you go green, try a vintage look, or embrace illustration, your customers are bound to notice the next time they step up to that store shelf.