If ever there were an organization qualified to create a report on packaging design trends, it would be Pentawards. Pentawards is a global platform and community for packaging design that holds a competition each year to recognize excellence in the field. Since it began the awards in 2007, it has received more than 20,000 entries from over 64 countries across the globe. In 2021, despite the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19, it still received a whopping 2,000 entries from across five continents.
“Entries to this year’s Pentawards showed how design can not only help solve crucial issues both in business and for the planet as a whole, but how it also can transform categories, reach new audiences, and bring delight and fun to people’s lives at a time of global uncertainty,” says the Pentawards team. “The caliber of work has been groundbreaking, hitting a new level of creative excellence, even under such circumstances.”
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Given the “groundbreaking” array of winning packages, Pentawards decided to compile, for the first time, a report highlighting 10 design trends drawn from the winning work. Says the team, “Together, they reveal the creative zeitgeist of the time, but also give us a glimpse into the future.”
Following are abbreviated descriptions of each of the trends they spotted, along with some examples from among the winning packages. To learn what’s next for each trend and to see more examples, download the full “Pentawards Trends Report 2021-2022.”
1. Surprising takes on traditional packs: This year’s entries included a number of brands offering surprising takes on what would normally be expected with packaging for particular product categories.
One example is packaging for everyday household gloves, which usually follow a fairly simple and standard design. “However,” says the report, “packaging for Stoic steps well outside its comfort zone, with bold and unexpected packaging that reflects the strength of its rubber gloves, by showing the fork attempting to pierce through what looks like ‘rubber’ packaging.”
The report notes that brands have also been playing with new takes on formats. The packaging for Glass Canned Wines plays on the surprise of discovering a product that is not usually found in this type of container. The different glasses and color wines used in the images on-pack help the consumer navigate this new format, while providing a fresh and contemporary take on wine consumption.
2. Color as the key visual: Maybe in an attempt to brighten consumers’ lives in what has been a gloomy year for many, there has been a trend for bold color being used as the key visual on packaging—often instead of the product itself or its ingredients. According to Pentawards, some of this year’s entries pushed the use of color to new levels, from using unprecedented amounts of color to highlight flavor and taste, to disrupting the category by helping the product stand out from competitors.
SAGA Gin is one example. It uses an iconic, extra-large yellow wax seal to make it more distinctive on-shelf, while creating a unified look across its packaging. Meanwhile, United Sodas of America put color front and center with its “daringly minimalist” packaging, communicating flavor while showcasing the diversity of its product range.
3. Sustainability made obvious: Reads the report, “We know that sustainability is one of the most important issues facing the packaging industry, and indeed the planet. In line with this, we are seeing more and more brands talking about their sustainability credentials and showcasing their efforts to develop more sustainable, planet-friendly packaging.” In particular, it adds, the judges spotted a trend for making this as obvious and transparent as possible through the package design.
One such brand is vegan washing detergent OceanIQ, whose packaging is made from 100% recycled fishnets retrieved from oceans worldwide. The packaging instantly reflects its brand purpose, and its name is deliberately misspelled to create a brand that addresses the smart use of plastic waste. In addition, label illustrations highlight the animals that the brand seeks to protect.
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4. Highlighting mental health: As the report notes, mental health has always been a sensitive societal issue, with diseases such as depression leading to approximately 700,000 death a year, according to the WHO. And, it says, not surprisingly, countries worldwide have seen a rise in mental health issues since the pandemic. A theme reflected in this year’s entries was around using packaging as a platform to open up conversations around people’s mental wellbeing.
For example, U.K.-based Frahm, a small, family-run e-comm business that takes sustainability and mental health very seriously, created something memorable for the packaging for their men’s jacket that reinforces its Tough Beautiful mantra. The packaging uses macro shots of native U.K. beetles—“nature’s tough and beautiful little creatures.” The corrugated cases are closed with custom packaging tape that has an “Open Up” message, highlighting that money from each purchase is sent to a mental health charity.
5. Diversity and inclusivity: Another trend was packaging highlighting the diversity of individuals across the planet—whether that be based on sexuality, disability, ethnicity, gender, or age.
For Levain Bakery’s e-commerce packaging, the “cookie lover’s parade” illustration features a variety of characters of different ages, abilities, ethnicities, and genders. It presents a more wholesome and inclusive view of New York City, where the bakery is based.
In the vein of packaging that’s more accessible for disabled people, coffee brand Only for Your Eyes, which raises awareness of the millions of blind people in the world, developed a label for its bottle that is printed exclusively in Braille, using screen-printed ink and varnish.
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6. Protest and propaganda: Notes the report, “Packaging, like any form of art or design, can be a great outlet for communicating societal issues and cultural events, or becoming a symbol of a movement.”
Limited-edition packaging from SK-II Pitera is an example of how brands are using the visual language of protest and propaganda to draw in younger consumers. Packaging for the skincare brand was inspired by the insight that this demographic chooses brands that promote self-expression rather than restrictive beauty ideals. Each pack uses various hand-crafted techniques, including “tapeography,” hand-drawn marker typography, and mixed-media collage using vintage street art posters that resemble urban graffiti.
7. Optimizing packaging for e-commerce. During the 2020 pandemic, the reliance on online shopping grew by as much as 77% and is still growing strong, notes the report. It adds that there are three things to consider with online packaging: “One, that it looks good online, two, that it can be easily delivered to a person’s home without getting damaged, and three, the sustainability impact of the additional packaging that would normally not exist if purchasing in-store.”
Taking all three into account is the packaging for Moët Hennessy’s Eminente Reserve rum, which was launched in 2020 during COVID-19 and is sold exclusively online. Explains the Pentawards team, the packaging uses a huge variety of hues and textures, from the “crocodile skin” glass bottle and wooden stopper to embossed, debossed, and gold hot stamp details, “all of which shine in digital and social media.” The packaging also has strong sustainability and provenance credentials, allowing the brand to tell rich stories about the product through online marketing.
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8. Packaging as a canvas: According to the Pentawards team, over the years, it’s seen many examples where illustrations have been developed as part of a brand story and used across a range of packaging. “But something we noticed this year was packaging being used for the actual canvas for the art itself, rather than a vessel you simply stick art onto,” it says.
One of this year’s winning entries was used as a canvas for nature. For both Vinho do Mar and Black Sea aged wines, bottles were submerged under water for a number of months as part of the aging process, not only for the product, but also to “age” the package in a unique and novel way. According to the report, using the packaging as a canvas to let nature make its mark has particular relevance now, where sustainability is such a hot topic and brands are aligning with more planet-friendly or “natural” messaging.
9. The rise of wraparound illustrations: An extension of the “packaging as a canvas trend,” the Pentawards team also spotted a number of brands using graphics that travel across packs to create larger, composite visuals when placed side by side. “While this has been a technique designers have used in the past, it now seems to be reaching a new level of popularity,” the report notes.
One delightful example is the blue cat on Milgrad’s dairy drink packaging, which wraps around the packaging designs and across the range, inviting consumers to interact with it from a distance on the supermarket’s shelf layout.
10. Packaging as transformative storytelling: As the report notes, creating a connection with consumers is a crucial part of packaging design, and in many cases this year, the Pentawards judges saw packaging designs that transcended the product itself to become their own storytelling device.
The Horror Ray torch, or flashlight, is designed for children attending summer camp. The package design for the product is designed to transform this simple utility item into a product loaded with evocative storytelling. Says the report, “The design brings to life the special ritual of telling horror stories in tents or around the campfire, with spooky stories written on the back of the packaging and its characters illuminated on the front with the torch’s light.”
Pentawards is accepting entries for its 2022 packaging design awards competition until Feb.14, 2022. Learn more at The Pentawards Competition website.