2020 was the year the world stood still. With pandemic-enforced lockdowns rendering most of us unable to leave our homes except for essential reasons, it’s also the year that ecommerce truly came into its own.
However, while online shopping became even more critical to our day to day lives than it already was, brands experienced significant challenges. With businesses having to meet consumers in their homes, rather than the other way around in-store, smart brands embraced different methods to create emotional connections with customers.
This has had a direct impact on the trends forecast to shape packaging design in 2021. As parcels and packaging became the only physical touchpoint for customers beyond the product itself, brands have raised the bar and we are starting to see a shift away from plain and commercial towards packaging design that is a work of art in its own right.
With no shelf to stand out on, here are five of the biggest packaging design trends helping brands create memorable brand experiences right inside the home through 2021.
1. Organically shaped color blocking.
Color blocking in packaging has been around for a while. But 2021’s organic spin sees new textures, unique color combinations, and varying weighted shapes give this trend a softer and more natural feel.
These designs shy away from straight lines or boxes of colors and instead favor uneven shapes, flowing lines, and sometimes tiny patterns that look like they have been lifted straight from nature. With many of us spending so much of the year cooped up inside, it’s no surprise that these softer, organic, and natural elements are also found in wider graphic design trends for 2021.
While at first these designs can seem random, there is certainly a lot of care taken to place complementary elements gently together in a way that creates harmonious patterns that are pleasing to the eye.
Packaging design by monostudio on 99designs
Packaging design by JianBranding on 99designs
2. Picture-perfect symmetry.
Speaking of pleasing to the eye — is there anything more aesthetically satisfying than perfectly symmetrical patterns?
Unlike the imperfect and organic shapes of this next year’s color blocking, we expect to see some designers and brands going in the complete opposite direction, instead creating packaging that leverages precise and calculated symmetry. Whether it’s small and intricate illustration, or larger, looser more disconnected patterns, these designs use balance to create a sense of visual satisfaction.
While organic color blocking evokes a sense of calm, these designs instead appeal to our need for order and stability — both of which provide some much-needed grounding amidst the chaos of 2020.
Packaging design by Mj.vass on 99designs
Packaging design by merci dsgn on 99designs
3. Packaging dressed in fine art.
This design trend takes the overarching theme for the year and applies it literally. From realistic portraiture to abstract paintings, packaging in 2021 is taking inspiration from fine art movements — either integrating them into elements of the design or making them the focal point to elevate the whole unboxing experience.
The aim here is to create the illusion of surface variation and depth, emulating textures you would find on a newly painted canvas. This is the reason why this design trend works so well for packaging on physical products — when you go to pick one up, you half expect it to feel like long-dried brushstrokes.
Packaging design by Emir Alcic on 99designs
Packaging design by Tatiana Ilina on 99designs
4. Tiny illustrated patterns that reveal what’s inside.
Packaging design is not just about embellishment. In 2021, expect to see designers use illustrations or patterns to give subtle hints about what consumers will find inside.
Rather than using photography or life-like drawings, these designs rely on intricate detail to create abstract, artistic representations of the products themselves. For example, a brand that makes artisan teas might use detailed patterns made out of the fruits and herbs its uses for each flavor.
Packaging design by maneka on 99designs
Packaging design by Gstars on 99designs
5. Solid all-over color.
Right alongside meticulous drawings and illustrations, we are also going to see plenty of products packaged up in single washes of color in 2021.
This aesthetic might seem simple, but don’t be fooled. The trend packs just as much punch as the rest, and it's a confident brand that lets the copy and often striking color choice do the hard work.
There is a certain understated elegance and confidence to these designs which use bold and bright hues and mood-inducing shades to guide a buyer’s eye directly to the copy. There’s a subtle difference between showing a buyer what’s inside and just telling them, and this trend allows brands do the latter.
Packaging design by Eva Hilla on 99designs
Packaging design by yand. on 99designs
In 2021, competition in the ecommerce space will undoubtedly continue to increase and so too will expectations for brands to deliver unique packaging. In a world where customers are quick to share a great experience on social media at the click of a button, being able to create an eye-catching “brand moment” right on a customer’s doorstep is a sure fire way to ensure your brand remains memorable long after the packaging has been thrown in the recycling.