Packaging design: what does the future hold?

June 17th, 2014

by Laura Drewe

While packaging design has always been a fascinating creative discipline, its future promises to be even more exciting and complex. In today’s competitive market, companies are more aware of the importance of good packaging in determining the consumer’s value perception of a product. In the past, packaging served one purpose – to contain and protect the merchandise. Now, it’s a communication vehicle. The focus is just as much on the package as it is on the product inside it.

Considering that more than half of purchases are based on emotional response[i], especially when a consumer is unsure and must choose between several brands of products, it’s not surprising that many companies that manage to master the art of design aesthetics and speak to the heart of their target audience, are on top of their game. Brand leaders such as Apple, Bang & Olufsen and IKEA demonstrate that design is what defines them and gives them their competitive edge.

Below, Laura Drewe takes a look at some exciting trends in the future of packaging design.

Consumer Interactivity

As we continue down the inevitable path of digital evolution, interactivity in packaging is becoming a common tool used by brands, advertisers and designers. The use of the QR (Quick Response) code is a good example of this trend. This code is a symbology developed in Japan in the 1990s that encodes information in a two-dimensional space. Originally designed for the Japanese automotive industry[ii], it has spread outside the automotive industry worldwide due to its fast readability and greater storage capacity.

The scope of use for the QR code is huge, particularly for the marketing and advertising of products and brands. One of the most important features of the QR code is that the consumer has instant access to product information. For example, as consumer concerns about food manufacturing and the need to know the ingredients continue to grow, the convenience of interactive product information in this case is particularly relevant[iii].  The code, in its various guises, simplifies user access to information by removing the need to search results, click to open or press to play. The code is comparatively cheap to create and place on packages, and easy for consumers to access with a smart phone[iv]. The QR code is also usually very small, and doesn’t effect or intrude on the overall design of the packaging.

If executed correctly, such a device can provide an extra layer of information to the customer and creates a positive, interactive connection between customer and product (and inevitably the packaging).

Location-based marketing group Georillas believes brands are slowly becoming more discerning in the use of QR codes. Georillas maintains QR codes are especially successful when linked to additional food facts, nutritional values, short YouTube videos, recipes, reviews, comparisons with competitors’ products, discounts, deals and social media sites[v].

However, it warns that mistakes are still being made and that some QR codes could be a disservice to the product, for example offering information that doesn’t provide any immediate value to the customer and using ANY type of non-mobile landing page[vi].

But when handled successfully, the QR code and similar app technology add up to an exciting trend and valuable tool for engagement, and an effective means of altering the way people shop and make purchase decisions.


A dynamic trend that is influential in package design acknowledges growing consumer awareness of the environment – consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about global environmental issues and are changing their buying habits accordingly.

The 2012 Survey of Future Packaging Trends, conducted by Packaging World magazine and DuPont to identify trends shaping the packaging industry for the next 10 years, indicates the packaging industry believes consumers value convenience (76 per cent) and shelf appeal (58 per cent).

However, when asked what were going to be the packaging attributes that were most important to consumers in the coming decade, respondents suggest that consumer priorities are drastically changing. The focus is on sustainability, specifically the perceived “greenness” of packaging materials (increasing by 23 per cent), recyclability (increasing 27 per cent) and reusability (increasing 13 per cent)[vii].

According to Tom Szaky, writing on sustainable packaging trends in March this year for Packaging Digest, over 80 per cent of consumers are mindful of the claims made by products about their sustainability. This consumer response has major implications for companies and agencies aiming to target environmentally conscious consumers across numerous industries, and further highlights the importance of corporate responsibility when it comes to being environmentally and sustainably-conscious[viii].

However, Sydney designer Mike Rossi believes that commitment to sustainability runs deeper than the packaging and “it should be a core principal of the brand itself and applied across all aspects of its operations for it to be genuine”. He would also like to see more environmental initiatives created by corporations that encourage recycling and reuse for its consumers. He believes this would make the corporations “more responsible for the amount of packaging it creates”[ix].

It is clear that sustainability is here to stay and the companies that understand that are ahead of the curve. New York branding expert Debbie Millman agrees.

“There are exciting new eco-trends developing in the packaging industry that will hopefully be embraced en masse by the owners of consumer brands. By switching to soy-based inks on product packaging, beefing up recycling incentives and showing off recycled attributes, or even re-evaluating and re-introducing an eco-minded brand mission and communicating it through packaging, brands can send smaller eco-friendly messages to a much larger and participatory audience.[x]

Oliver Campbell, Director of Worldwide Procurement, Packaging & Packaging Engineering, is also optimistic. “In the tech industry, we see more demand for sustainable or green packaging among our customers. I’d say there’s a market trend around sustainability, as well as a societal trend that we see in government regulation from Australian packaging regulations and Canada take-backs. The trend in sustainable packaging is being backed up by investment in research and new factories. The industry is walking the talk. It makes me feel good about the future.[xi]

In the Status of Packaging Sustainability in Australia report, Mike McKinstry, President of the Packaging Council of Australia, writes “Sustainability is relevant to all companies in the packaging supply chain. Companies that ignore sustainability do so at their peril. The time has come for sustainability to work for, rather than against, the industry.[xii]

As well as developing sustainable packaging systems, corporations and industries are acknowledging the importance of investing time and energy in educating shoppers – and in conveying environmental claims and benefits in a clear and compelling manner via labeling, and other educational and advertising support.

Interestingly, here is where the use of a QR code again becomes greatly beneficial – the consumer could be able to trace the origins of the product, and properly look into the brand’s environmental credentials[xiii].

Sustainability is no longer an optional add-on, it’s an essential part of future business planning for those in the packaging industry. The complete story of a product is becoming a key factor in purchasing decisions – where does it come from, how was it made, what are its recycling credentials?

The Special K® Snack Bar multi pack in a recyclable and cost effective cardboard package.

Practical minimalism

In line with the move to sustainability is the increasing trend to minimalism when it comes packaging. It’s the less-is-more principle – packaging that is stripped to the essential qualities of the product and the stylish simplicity of presentation. It is packaging that is smaller, lighter and economical, elements that acknowledge consumer awareness of the environment, social changes and convenience.

Joe Pryweller, editor of Packaging Strategies, says, “There is certainly a strong push to reduce the amount of packaging, one that has been ongoing for the past five years. This trend does not seem to be declining; go to your neighbourhood supermarket, and you’ll find much evidence of packaging that is shorter, smaller or arrayed in different shapes or sizes than in the past.

“Waste is a major global concern, and the push by retailers and CPGs (consumer packaged goods) to reduce packaging – and save some money on materials in the process – will not cease. In fact, the newer trends of using pouches and other flexible formats will continue to grow as a means to reduce size and weight. So will the continued reduction in carton sizes and in wraps and liners[xiv]”.

Interestingly, as packaging becomes smaller and there is less printable area for consumer information, this is where modern packaging techniques such as the QR code become valuable.

The effective use of a QR code on Heinz products.

There is no doubt social change is indirectly leading to modifications in packaging design. The average size of households is declining in part because more couples are opting not to have any children, and many professionals choose to live alone instead of getting married or sharing a place with roommates.

Increasingly busy lifestyles mean consumers are seeking ease of use and convenient transportation from their packaging. Smaller, lighter and more easily disposable packaging makes consumption-on-the-go easier. Innovations such as no-mess applicators and dispensers eliminate the need for additional packaging, further adding to a no-fuss and disposable approach. Individual-sized portions are becoming key in packaging.

However, Prudence Frost, from the Packaging Council of Australia, believes single-serve packaging has the potential to create more packaging and therefore more waste.

“While commercial and environmental pressures are requiring a reduction in the amount of packaging, the requirement for convenience/quick preparation foods which are individually packaged in single or small serves is increasing and, in turn, is leading to an increase in the amount of packaging per food unit.[xv]

Products are increasingly expected to be easy to open and re-sealable whenever possible. People don’t want to waste food, and trends in packaging dictate that smaller definitely is better and less packaging is becoming more desirable (if done efficiently).

Minimalism in package design is, Mike Rossi believes, also a “nod toward design fluency… It is often used to indicate a premium brand, which tend to go for the ‘less is more’ approach”[xvi].

The handmade aesthetic

A design-oriented trend that has been gaining momentum recently is the handmade/homemade aesthetic. This trend is becoming increasingly engrained in our culture, lifestyle and design worlds, including package and product design. Many brands are reverting to handmade and vintage-esque designs to convey a traditional and trustworthy approach.

Handcrafted elements can make a product seem one of a kind, even in mass production. Common elements of this aesthetic include hand-lettered typographic-driven designs, rustic designs, nostalgic imagery and subtle textures. (You’ll even see an increased use of kraft paper in packaging design.)

As the products surrounding us are becoming increasingly intelligent, and the platforms and devices available are multiplying, we yearn for simpler styles and times. We want to connect with something real, tangible, that we, as consumers, can relate to.

Claire Parker, Creative Director at Design Bridge believes this handmade approach to design is a clever strategy. It “provides a golden opportunity to develop genuine affection and brand loyalty by involving your consumer in the story of your brand, fulfilling them emotionally as they see themselves reflected in the ideologies, personality and design of your brand. At the pinnacle of packaging design and brand strategy, they can work together to emotionally intertwine brands and their consumers to near inseparable points. Hand-crafted is a trend that gives so much opportunity, not just for beautiful design, but an opportunity to really mean something to consumers and be part of something that I, personally, think is timeless”. [xvii]

A local example of this trend is the Artisan San Remo Pasta.  Crafted in a variety of giant, distinctive shapes and finished with a rough, rustic texture, the Artisan San Remo Pasta is featured in deli-style packaging, which provides a natural look and feel[xviii].  It looks genuine, traditional and trustworthy.

Deli-style packaging: The Artisan San Remo Pasta.

From packaging, to stationery, to websites, to fashion and advertising, this handmade trend is hard to miss, and here to stay.

Packaging design is a large and demanding design field ever alert to the need to deliver both product originality and sales performance. Packaging is the last message consumer’s see and a last chance to convince them to buy the product.  It needs to give meaning, to tell a story that is important to the producer and consumer. Package design needs to engage and to communicate.

Today, consumers are demanding more and more from packaging. Change is being fostered by commercial pressures, social and demographic changes, technological developments and environmental concerns. Thus, the design imperative behind approaches to creative packaging demands a deep, wide-ranging understanding of target markets and societal change, and a logistical and creative way of thinking. When it comes to package design, the future is exciting.


[i] Bell, Holly, A., A Contemporary Framework for Emotions in Consumer Decision-Making: Moving, International Journal of Business and Social Science, Vol. 2 No. 17, Available: (accessed 24 May 2014)

[ii] The history of the QR code,, Denso Wave Incorporated, Available: (accessed 24 May 2014)

[iii] Pendleton, J, 2014, Email conversation, 13 – 27 May 2014,

[iv] Schapsis, Claudio, 2013, QR Codes on food packaging – Two basic rules to follow. Available: (accessed 1 May 2014)

[v] Schapsis, Claudio, 2013, QR Codes on food packaging – Two basic rules to follow. Available: (accessed 1 May 2014)

[vi] Schapsis, Claudio, 2013, QR Codes on food packaging – Two basic rules to follow. Available: (accessed 1 May 2014)

[vii] DuPont Packaging, 2012, 2012 Survey of Future Packaging Trends; A Study by Packaging World magazine and DuPont Packaging & Industrial Polymers, Available: (accessed 2 May 2014)

[viii] Szaky, Tom, 2014, Blog: 5 sustainable packaging trends to look out for in 2014, Available: (accessed 3 May 2014)

[ix] Rossi, M, 2014, Email conversation, 12 – 25 May 2014,

[x] Millman, Debbie, 2012, Interview – The State of Packaging in Today’s Market on, Available: (accessed 3 May 2014)

[xi] Pierce, Lisa McTigue, 2013, Top trends for 2014 in Flexible Packaging, Available: (accessed 3 May 2014)

[xii] McKinstry, Mike and Williams, Gavin, The Status of Packaging Sustainability in Australia – Final Report, Prepared for Packaging Council of Australia, July 2008, Available: (accessed 24 May 2014)

[xiii] Rossi, M, 2014, Email conversation, 12 – 25 May 2014,

[xiv] Pryweller, Joe, 2012, Interview – The State of Packaging in Today’s Market on, Available: (accessed 3 May 2014)

[xv] Frost, Prudence, Australian Packaging: Issues and Trends, background paper for the workshop Packaging Your World – Protect, Preserve, Contain, Inform, Issue 18, June 2005, Available: (accessed 25 May 2014)

[xvi] Rossi, M, 2014, Email conversation, 12 – 25 May 2014,

[xvii] Parker, Claire, Handmade: a trend from the heart, taken from Design Bridge blog, May 14th 2012, Available: (accessed 24 May 2014)

[xviii] Food South Australia, Member News, Discover the true art of new artisan San Remo pasta, Tuesday, May 8th, 2012 Available: (accessed 24 May 2014)

  1. Dan says:

    Some prudent and insightful views on the latest trends in packaging. Thanks for posting this!

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