Thinking forward. Packaging design trends 2021

Thinking forward. Packaging design trends 2021

6th January 2021
Thoughts & Insights

Packaging design trends that’ll shape the future of packaging and branding. Jon, Head of Packaging, tunes into the key design approaches which have influenced consumer purchases in 2020. He shares his top 6 design trends to look out for in 2021 to keep you ahead of the curve.

Sustainability – more than a trend

Sustainability is top of the agenda when it comes to packaging design but it’s so much more than a trend. For many consumers it’s a way of life and there’s a great demand for sustainable packaging placing pressure on manufacturers. 2020 has seen more companies announce sustainable packaging goals when it comes to plastics. Data shared by WRAP for the UK Plastics Pact report shows that unnecessary plastic has been reduced by 40%, with a positive increase in people using plastic packaging and progress in people recycling at home (view report here).

The huge pressure to meet plastic recovery goals has led to brands seeking alternative substrates, with a rise and return to paper-based packaging. Consumers have re-evaluated the role of packaging within food and drink due to covid as more emphasis is placed on product safety. The industry is already finding ways to combat the environment and covid together with the introduction of antibacterial coatings on recyclable materials. We’ve been working with brands like Pets at Home and Aqua Pura who’re taking proactive steps to reduce non-recyclable materials whilst keeping their products on brand. We’ll be talking a lot more about sustainability and how covid has impacted packaging on our blog so keep an eye out on our feed!


Simplistic, minimal designs have played a huge part in COVID messaging and healthcare products, including product of the year… hand wash. Clean and concise messaging provides a large area of product reveal, with the biggest differentiator after brand being the container. We expect to see more bespoke bottle designs to create sustainable desirability with hand wash products.

Neutral colour palettes

One of the biggest and most influential trends of 2020 – soft colours and neutral tones. Not only a huge part of packaging but it’s been showering our Instagram feeds, where we’ve seen soft light and elongated shadows.

The DiSotto’s Gelato retail packaging was designed with a soft colour palette from the outset, a minimal design with colours which mirror the flavours and enhance the beautiful images captured by our photography team, Eat & Breathe. See more on our case study here.

What we’ll see more of in 2021

Flat illustrations

A versatile illustration style that can be adapted successfully to tell stories and represent many unique brands. Flat illustrations are an extension of the minimalistic design and perhaps most compelling. They’re relatively easy to print on a wide range of packaging substrates too.

Social-first branding

The power of social media to elevate a brand is no big secret. It’s crucial for packaging design to work as part of a social strategy. The ability of click through purchases from the likes of Instagram is gathering pace and with the app’s recent ‘dedicated to shopping tab’, the way we design packaging has to accommodate a ‘social-first’ strategy. After all, it’s the modern-day window shopping.

Self-care and wellness

Self-care should be at the top of everyone’s list and with that brands have been injecting elements of humanity into brand identities. This steers us from the traditional design routes to using bold saturated colours, whilst remaining transparent and trusted.

This year alone, we’ve seen more brands focus on topics surrounding health, such as menopause, sexual health, menstruation and fertility. Periods now have a dedicated Pantone colour which gives us hope to see these topics become everyday discussions.

Authentically vintage

Vintage inspired packaging and label design have been on trend over recent years. With a real focus on typography that is designed make you think you’ve just hit 88mph in a DeLorean and it’s not going anywhere yet!

2021 will continue to be influenced by the old but we’ll start to see things being pushed further with a more technical, anatomical and botanical illustrative influence that adds weight to the authenticity of a brand. Traditional print embellishments, such as embossing and foiling, combined with AR and VR technology will allow us to ‘feel’ and ‘watch’, providing the consumer with the ultimate unboxing experience. This pushes beyond ‘retro’ to become a truly authentic storytelling experience.

Tiny, illustrated patterns

Intricate patterns and tiny illustrations will be used on packaging to give consumers a hint about what’s inside.

Illustrations will often be simplified, abstract or cartoon like, which helps for successful printing, but all will be reminiscent of the product whilst communicating the brand narrative.

A return to nature & the arts

Alongside artistic brush strokes and tactile textures, you’re also going to see a lot of your favourite products packed up in designs that feel like they’ve been pulled from an ‘anatomical guide to’ or an engineering blueprint or stripped from the wall of an art gallery. Careful, considered art, provides a central focal point for packaging. Desirability is key here. Dressing packaging in abstract or fine art doesn’t need to be reserved for high end products such as wine labels. It’s already started to feature on mid-range products like beer and chocolate and I hope to see it being pushed further.

For more information on our packaging services, let us know on or better still, call us on 0161 205 3311.

JON WIDER 2 small
Article by Jon-Paul Lightfoot

Head of Packaging

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