A product’s lifespan can factor into the delicate balancing act of whether or not to follow a trend. If a package needs to stand the test of time, going against or ignoring current trends and authentically reflecting the brand essence is always a best bet.
Eco-friendly, sustainable packaging has evolved visually from expected earthy materials into more decorated, beautiful expressions of nature.
An abstract package design can be derivative of a more tangible concept, with the overall goal to evoke a specific emotional response.
Technology and science themes have made their way into the beauty with packaging identities inspired by more structured, pattern-driven illustrations that are mathematical in nature.
In brand development work, a trend can have a range of interpretations and a varying degree of importance. It can be thought of as something meaningful, as a general direction of change or something frivolous like following what is currently popular or fashionable. Whichever way you look at it, all packaging is susceptible to evolving trends.
Brands can intentionally follow trends with a novelty or seasonal product offering or can unintentionally fall into a trend. The first goal in strategizing and designing packaging identity should be to authentically reflect the brand’s core identity and personality, and cross-checking the strategy across relevant trends can help inform whether the brand wants to follow or contrast them in order to best connect with its target consumer.
Sometimes following a trend can make a brand look fresh and current; other times, the product can get lost in the crowded marketplace. The product’s lifespan can also factor into this delicate balancing act. If a company is developing a limited product offering, following current fads may be appropriate. But if a package needs to stand the test of time, going against or ignoring current trends and authentically reflecting the brand essence is always a better bet.
As it is often the first interaction a consumer has with a brand or product and can influence purchase decisions, packaging should be functional, convey a story and personality, and emotionally connect. Many companies, particularly those without extensive advertising budgets, invest more in packaging design than in any other brand touch point.
Throughout the last 10 years of studying beauty industry trends, I have seen fads come and go, with some evolving into larger movements over time. In this article, I’ve chosen to focus on newer trends as both straightforward observations and more thoughtful insights on brand identity expression through packaging.
Trend #1: Natural 2.0
Eco-friendly, sustainable packaging may have started out as a trend, but is now a movement that has accelerated over the past decade. It follows a general cultural shift in thinking and in consumer demand. Typically, brands with sustainable packaging reflect the natural-based formulas or eco-friendly products.
Recently, this has evolved visually from the expected earthy materials into more decorated and beautiful expressions of nature. It mirrors the shift in attitude on the consumer side—since women are expecting more responsibility in beauty products, the focus has shifted to creating beautiful packages that happen to also be more responsibly produced as opposed to hitting customers over the head with an overtly earthy look. This makes for an interesting contrast between materials, finishes and colors.
Tarte is one of the most well-known natural-based cosmetic lines, with a philosophical emphasis on creating healthy products with beautiful packaging that is refillable, reusable and sustainable when possible, and Tarte has expanded this approach beyond its specialty lines into the everyday products. For the Glamazon Pure Performance 12-hour Lipstick, a bamboo component is contrasted with colorful tribal prints that reflect the color of the lipstick inside. Likewise, Physician’s Formula Bamboo Wear, a line of makeup and accessories with formulas that contain Bamboo Silk, also utilizes contrasting deco with a bright green bamboo pattern printed on top of the refillable bamboo compacts.
Maine Beach uses kraft paper in much of its packaging, which is generally considered eco-friendly due to lack of bleaches and processing and also earthy in feel. For its organic olive oil french milled soap, the packaging design contrasts the otherwise bland material with beautiful, elaborate traditional typography, including formal scripts with decorative flourishes. Stila has also used kraft paper for many years. The material doesn’t necessarily reflect the products but rather serves as a contrast to the other more slick color cosmetics lines. Stila also uses contrasting colors and materials to create a unique packaging identity—for example, the Color Me Glossy Lip Glaze set has metallic foil stamps and colorful printing, a more unique treatment of traditional kraft paper printing.
Another example of the use of contrasting or unexpected material combinations, L’Occitane’s Verbana Refreshing Towelettes are packaged in an unprinted metallic material, with kraft-style paper serving as the resealable tab area. The contrast between the industrial, shiny metallic finish and the earthy matte finish makes for an interesting juxtaposition. Since the towelettes are 100% biodegradable, the stripped down material choices lend themselves to communicating an eco-friendly message.
Trend #2: Abstract Art
Since the beginning of the modern graphic design era, fine art has had a direct influence on commercial design, and designers have either taken literal or indirect inspiration from abstract artists. The abstract art beauty packaging identity trend is purely visual and focused on primary and secondary package decoration—as opposed to the structure or form of the packaging—and typically utilizes abstract graphics that are evocative of a mood, conceptual in nature or purely decorative.
Urban Decay takes inspiration from fine art across many of the brand touch points, with an overall expressive and edgy brand personality that comes through in its packaging designs. The Electric Palette is decorated with an abstract, brightly colored floral print that references a watercolor painting technique. The Melt Down Makeup Remover has an expressive black splatter element as the focal point of the primary packaging, similar to ink splatter artists that were originally inspired by fine artist Jackson Pollock.
An abstract package design can also be derivative of a more tangible concept, with the overall goal to evoke a specific emotional response. In the packaging system for tanning product brand Kissed by Mii, the abstract jewel-toned organic forms reminiscent of artist Georgia O’Keeffe reference the marine materials unique to the brand, with touches of gold to reflect sun-kissed skin, according to the packaging’s creative director. Although the designs are not literal, the packaging exudes a distinct organic feel that is unique in the tanning category. Oribe’s Dry Texturizing Spray also utilizes an abstract graphic to communicate a product feature, and the packaging is covered with gold gestural lines that mimic the texture of hair.
Using a more decorative and modern approach, Method’s 2014 summer collection utilizes modern, abstract shapes arranged in an artistic pattern with three varying colors and designs. The product scents are inspired by frozen treats, and the designs and colors of the Brambleberry Gelato and Orange Ginger Sorbet SKUs, as examples, have a fresh, clean look and feel that reflects the whimsical and refreshing fragrances inside.
Trend #3: Gradient
This visual trend is one of the simplest of all the categories explored in this article. The packages in this trend have simple, light-to-dark or color-to-color gradations as their primary identity. This visual effect is seen on both primary and secondary packaging, as well as on components that tend to be clean and minimal in form.
In the case of Sephora’s Pantone Universe line, the design takes on a deeper conceptual meaning as the simple gradation design reflects the idea of Pantone colors’ ability to be fine tuned by screening back the ink. This idea also has a direct connection to makeup application, where color can be built up with varying degrees of application.
In some examples, the gradation seems to be simply an expression of understated sophistication. Shiseido’s Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate, The Body Shop’s White Musk Smoky Rose Fragrance Mist, Oribe’s Gold Lust Transformative Masque and the Cartier de Lune fragrance all have simple gradations with minimal typography that communicate a premium aesthetic. When created from multiple colors, gradations can also take on a more artistic feel. New York womenswear and accessories brand Proenza Schouler’s limited edition collection for MAC is produced with a rainbow-hued metallic finish and simple logo placement, referential of modern artist Mark Rothko.
Trend #4: Food
This is an ongoing trend, but worth covering as there are so many new and fun examples on the marketplace today. The packages in this trend feature food-inspired designs that reflect the fragrance or ingredients of the product inside. The overall feeling tends to be fun and novel, with playful interpretations of food that are both visual and form-based.
Bath and body brand Cucina was one of the pioneers in food-inspired product packaging, with the inspiration coming directly from the Italian translation of the name meaning, kitchen. In addition to illustrations of food, many of the primary packaging components take inspiration from food packaging such as olive oil and cheese.
Bath & Body Works has been using food-inspired designs to illustrate its scents for many years, with the packaging evolving to more direct and playful food references in recent iterations. The Market Peach and Pumpkin Pecan Waffles soaps and lotions are named like menu items, and are visually decorated like food packaging, featuring prominent food photography as the focal point. The use of food visuals can also be more illustrative and tongue-in-cheek. For example, Spanish bath and body brand Etnia’s Happygel line has a clean and modern packaging identity with a simple logo and typography, with vintage etched style black and white food illustrations that illustrate each scent in a whimsical way.
More recently, food inspiration has worked itself into the primary packaging structures with beauty components that literally look like food items.
Japanese skin care line Tony Moly features primary components shaped like tomatoes, oranges and peaches that reference the extracts used in the formulas. This trend is also seen in cosmetics. Too Faced’s Chocolate Bar Eye Shadow Collection has primary packaging molded and colored to look like a chocolate bar, and secondary packaging that references traditional chocolate packaging.
Trend #5: Embellished
This grouping of products tend to be simple in form but have a special touch added that makes them feel special or premium. These packages are mostly for high-end or boutique brands and for products that have a longer shelf life and act as a home accessory. The embellishments can be as simple as a tip-on, built into the structure or in the design itself with elaborate typography or ornamentation. This trend takes place in both primary and secondary packaging.
Until recently, cosmetics primary packaging has maintained a level of starkness with only brand logos included on component decoration. Today, more and more decorated primary components are seen in the marketplace. Examples of this trend occur more frequently in limited edition collections—for example, Sharon & Kelly Osbourne’s MAC Summer 2014 collection features each of their signatures on colored lip, eye, and tool components. Makeup Forever’s La Boheme line is also a departure from the brand’s normally simple primary packaging decoration—for example, the lipsticks have ornamental printing on the base and a larger, colorful logo with a flower on the cap. Tarte has always used more decorated components as part of its packaging identity, which seems to have expanded over the past few years. In its Amazonian Butter Lipstick, components are decorated with colorful botanical-inspired patterns on both the cap and the base, with unique color ways for each shade.
In fragrance, embellishments are almost a staple to designing packaging, as the product lives in the consumer’s house for an extended period of time. For this reason, the packaging is designed to feel like a home or fashion accessory. In fragrance components, the embellishments tend to be built in to the structure of the package, as seen in the gold, lace-like honeycomb pattern on the cap of Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria or the fun dimensional flowers on Marc Jacobs Daisy Dream. In some instances, embellishments are tipped-on for a touch of personality. For example, for Victoria’s Secret’s Noir Tease fragrance, the fishnet stocking pattern on the primary component is mirrored with real lace at the top of the bottle, with a vintage dispenser built into the component. MOR’s Correspondence collection folds the idea of production embellishments into the concept of the packaging design. For example, the soap packaging is designed to look like a vintage letter, with handwriting, stamps, a dimensional seal and a thin ribbon tied around the packaging.
Sometimes embellishment can be in the form of expressive or elaborate graphics. Men’s grooming line Bayolea utilizes highly ornamented, vintage style labels on its components to seamlessly mix typefaces, flourishes, illustrations and line work. The design has almost no color, as the minimal black-and-white color palette uses just a lime green accent for a modern touch. The packaging also has a simple tipped-on ribbon on some of the components to give the design a premium finishing touch.
Trend #6: Technical
Technology and science themes have made their way into the beauty industry with packaging identities that are inspired by more structured, pattern-driven illustrations that are mathematical in nature. This is mostly a graphic trend when it comes to the packaging identity, but can be seen in primary packaging structures as well. Many of the identities here tend to be minimal overall with limited color palettes, and many of the identities have scientific, pattern-driven graphics that loosely reference the product inside. For example, natural honey-based product line Artisan Bee features a hexagonal pattern that borrows from a honeycomb structure. The design for Cella Paramedical’s Nano-Cellulose Facial & Eye Mask also takes inspiration from the properties of the product—the black-and-white, technical illustrations resemble biological elements such as fingerprints and DNA. The result is a chic, minimal identity that exudes quality and dependability. Aveda’s Control Force has a technical pattern similar to graph paper as its identity, which mirrors the result of the product benefits. The Body Shop’s Seaweed Purifying cleanser has thick and thin technical lines that visually reference the flowing lines in seaweed.
Many beauty identities today are also inspired by modern digital technology. The Basics, a minimal line of beauty essentials, has a pixel identity graphic inspired by 1980s arcade games, a retro nod to current computer technology. DKNY’s MYNY fragrance also has pixel-inspired graphics on the primary packaging, with a pixelated heart graphic in the “MYNY” identity. The primary packaging is a reference to the New York skyline, but also looks like dimensional pixels.
Trend #7: Photographic
In packaging design, there is a tendency to stay away from photographic packaging identity solutions for practical reasons, as they have less longevity as fashion and trends evolve. For this reason, photographic beauty packaging identities are more rare than graphic-driven packages. However, currently, there are several fragrances that are using advertising-driven photographic images on their secondary packaging, which makes for a compelling brand presentation at retail. Often the packages have two front panels, one clean and typographic and one photographic. This allows products to be arranged more freely and billboards created for the fragrance at retail. Mont Blanc Legend utilizes a black and white portrait style photograph of a rugged man on the packaging, also seen in the product ads.
Elie Saab’s L’eau Couture fragrance also features the advertising image on the packaging, depicting an elegant female model wearing a couture dress in a cityscape. Thierry Mugler’s Alien fragrance carton features a highly stylized photographic illustration of an exotic, fantastical woman.
There are also examples of photography-driven identities seen in primary packaging. R+Co has a playful line of products that utilize photography-driven imagery that ties into the product name in a clever way. For example, Death Valley Dry Shampoo shows a dry desertscape, the Bel Air Smoothing Conditioner has an over-the-top chandelier and Mannequin Styling Past features a picture of mannequins. Although the identities sound bland in description, the photos are highly stylized, desaturated and almost illustrative in style, which in itself makes for an interesting visual identity. The rest of the graphics are black and white with straightforward, clean typography.
Aniko Hill is the creative director of The Kitchen Collaborative, which she founded with a determination to innovate the traditional creative business methodology. Her distinct creative and professional vision has produced award-winning work with quantifiable results for clients in categories including health & beauty, fashion, home products and pet care. Her work creating premium lifestyle brands for the sophisticated female market has been featured in top industry publications such as Print, CPC Packaging, and HOW magazines. Graphic Design USA recognized Hill as one of the People to Watch in 2008.