Everyone in the graphic arts industry knows Pantone. Over the past 20 years, since the company began making news with its Color of the Year selection, its notoriety has spread to a wide spectrum of industries. Cosmetics and apparel pay attention. Classic Blue is the color of denim. Ergo, the color of money.
Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of Pantone’s Color Institute, spoke about this year’s color to Anna Fixsen of Architectural Digest: “When we look at the world around us, we know that we’re living with a lot of unrest, where some days we don’t feel quite as secure. Blue, from an emotional, psychological standpoint, has always represented a certain amount of calm and dependability. It’s a color that you can rely on.”
Just watch. Classic blue consumer goods will proliferate this year in print, packaging, textiles, tiles, nail polish, and maybe appliances and automobiles.
Everybody follows trends. They must to stay in business. Few people actually start trends. Back in the olden days, before Instagram, way before Facebook and Palm Pilots, all trends were started by a guy named Marvin Bigelow, who lived on Varick Street in Manhattan. Marvin just had a knack for innovation. Everyone copied him.
(Just kidding about Marvin. He’s actually my cousin, who said he’d pay me $30 if I got his name into an international magazine.)
Sometimes a product that has been around for some time is “discovered” and “goes viral,” thus attaining trend status and delivering a windfall to its maker. Think Hydro Flask, a company launched in 2009 in Oregon, which makes outdoorsy insulated products like beverage and food containers and coolers. Over the past couple of years it became a must-have brand. A drink flask is not new, but Hydro Flasks have good design – functional and attractive – and are very cool to have in public. The company is enjoying its success but is now in the group of those who must keep on innovating to stand out.
Jonathan Openshaw, editor at The Future Laboratory, a London-based consultancy that helps clients with trends and innovation, identified five stages of human involvement in the movement of trends in a thoughtful piece at Mr Roberts website. The first – the innovators – is obvious. If it were not for Stan Avery, none of us would be reading this publication. Here’s another: a high school dropout named Steve Jobs. Innovators don’t start trends; they are the reason the trend comes to life.
Early adopters, says Openshaw, take notice and make use of the innovation. These people tend to be urban, well connected socially, and often widely known. In recent days, they have come to be known as influencers.
Third is the early majority. The brand is on the way up and the financial wonders are manifest. The stuff is visible and popular among specific groups, usually. Next is the late majority, your mom and dad, “inherently conservative and conscious of social norms,” as Openshaw puts it.
Finally we have the laggards. Not much to say here, although Jonathan makes it clear when he says, “This is the group where trends go to die.”
What’s trending for us?
99designs is an online company that connects a million freelance graphics people the world over. For 2020’s top packaging trend it sees containers and labels that tell a story, to communicate more with consumers via distinctive text and images. Such packaging, they say, offers an online shopper more product details before the order is placed. The group also sees more artistic and avant garde packaging – “metamorphoses,” they call it.
Look for “retro-futurism.” The name might seem confusing, silly or pretentious. 99designs says it can make sense. “Retro and futuristic design can work well together, invoking both feelings of nostalgia (retro) and anticipation (futurism). 2020 will see package designers using the current gradient trend as a jumping-off point for creating packaging that pairs both futuristic and retro design elements to create remarkable designs that will appeal to a wide variety of consumers.
“Expect plenty of neon colors, bold gradients and retro design touches (like minimalist logos and retro-inspired typography) to come together in unique, unexpected and on-trend ways.”
Then there’s “blurry color splotches and blurred images.” Hmm, that could be a trend. Maximalism and heavily detailed packaging. Ecologically aware packaging. Natural and earthy pastels. Neatly structured layouts. Holographic effects on black backgrounds. Transparent packaging that allows color to shine through. Plenty to work with here.
Food packaging trends are on the minds of the folks at Bizongo, an India-based packaging consultancy. First on its list is technology-enabled labels and packaging. Steady growth in manufacturing, security and logistical labeling has occurred since smart packaging entered the marketplace decades ago. Mordor Intelligence pegs its 2019 global value at $7.38 billion, and predicts a 2025 peak at $15.21 billion. “Food packaging comes embedded with NFC chips or printed QR codes, smart labels that can be scanned using a smartphone to provide more information about the product,” Bizongo says. “Smart packaging also tracks several parameters like pH, temperature, fermentation to ensure freshness, flavor, quality, and compliance with health standards.”
Everythng, a “web of things” developer based in New York City, is working with such brand owners as Ralph Lauren to push direct consumer engagement via smart product technology. Digital info available to retail customers includes authentication, provenance, registration, self-checkout, reorder, instructions, recommendations, rewards, coupons and recycling information. Evrythng’s industry partners include Avery Dennison, GS1, WestRock, and Crown Packaging.
Packaging design for 2020 might also reflect more emotion, rather than just straightforward details. Vintage designs, with a hint of a time gone by, have a nostalgic value, Bizongo believes. “They evoke happy feelings in people reminding them of simpler times.” This might not be just another soft idea. The approach plays well with a large segment of the human population in developed countries. We’re dealing with TMI overload, social media dominance, and uneasiness about politics, culture, corporate influence, law, defense, and the income gap. Why not make the past great again?
Food packaging also might grow more clear labeling, as well as increased portability and personalization. The last one, maybe so, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s been available for 25 years or so, and I don’t see it often.
A final thought: For many years now, everybody’s list of annual packaging trends declares that product marketers will place emphasis on sustainability. This is getting old – not sustainability of course, but calling it a trend – so stop it. Green, or blue if you’re trying to keep packaging waste out of the oceans, is no longer just an attitude, a recommendation, a promise or a feel-good sign over the waste paper bin. Sustainability is a requirement, a bold entry on corporate mission statements, a significant line item in the budget, and a practice, a program of endless actions that demands relentless vigor.
If your sustainability effort isn’t up to speed, you might be a laggard on the trend scale. It’s not just about pleasing the customer any more. It’s not a trend.
The author is president of Jack Kenny Media, a communications firm specializing in the packaging industry, and is the former editor of L&NW magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.