A glance at the packaging and marketing trends of 2020

The most obvious news from 2020 was the Covid-19 pandemic and, arguably, this outbreak had the biggest influence on packaging design trends. Due to the nature of investment, manufacturing lines and global transit, the packaging industry can take longer to respond to worldwide shifts than other industries. Nonetheless, there are several trends that emerged during 2020 that are worth noting.

Sustainability, e-commerce and user experience are three of the biggest trends of the past year. Meeting consumer needs and wants amid a global pandemic forced many packaging companies to adapt their strategies. Agencies also had to find a way to facilitate remote working in order to overcome the logistical challenges of manufacturing and supplying packaging across the globe.

Sustainability trends in packaging design

This trend has been present for many years now, but the pandemic accelerated its necessity. With a large increase in plastic and medical-type waste as a result of hand sanitizers, face masks and rubber gloves, the need for eco-friendly packaging was felt like never before. The shift to sustainable materials, production methods and circular economies has truly begun.

Covid-19 will be around for a couple of years, so it is a temporary glitch. Climate change and pollution are far greater problems that we face, so pushing for better sustainability remained at the forefront of the packaging industry. Packs were designed to be reusable, recyclable or biodegradable from the start. Materials were explored and experimented with, such as pulp and wood, that can offer better environmental preservation than single-use plastics.

The emphasis on circularity in 2020 was underpinned by brands aiming for 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by the middle of this decade. This also led to further collaboration between brands, packaging designers, materials experts and recycling facilities to achieve these sustainability goals. Consumers are asking for more eco-friendly packaging and they are being offered more and more choices now.

E-commerce saw massive growth in 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic forced national lockdowns around the world. This meant that shopping in-person became more restricted and difficult. As a result, e-commerce grew in a massive way as consumers were able to purchase goods online from the safety of their homes. The pandemic certainly accelerated online shopping, which also resulted in shifts to packaging design.

Many packs are no longer designed for display on a shelf; they are now designed for display on a web page. Eye-catching in-store displays have been dropped in favour of clean, simple, bold pack designs that show up clearly on a computer screen. The packs need to be easy to recognise, so complicated patterns and details have been replaced by simplified, striking designs.

Making online purchases was a rapidly-growing trend before the pandemic, but it became the major method of shopping in many countries during 2020. In order to stand out from more competitors in the online sphere, brands had to better understand their consumers’ needs and wants and appeal to them in their own homes. This meant improving and revamping entire digital strategies, websites and social media channels in a bid to target customers through multiple online platforms.

User experience also saw shifts in 2020

Since many consumers could no longer experience in-store displays, the user experience of interacting with a brand and its packaging had to change in 2020. Unboxing became far more important as brands tried to improve the user experience through unique and fun ways of revealing their products. This improves the experience for the consumer, especially one who had a product delivered to their home.

But user experience goes beyond purchasing and unboxing. The way in which a brand interacts with its consumers on a daily or weekly basis also has an impact on experience. Many packaging companies and brands increased their digital visibility through content strategies and social media posts that would educate and entice buyers in a new way. 

While 2020 was undeniably challenging for most packaging companies and brands, it did bring about some positive shifts in design, sustainability, product interaction and usability. These three trends of 2020 are likely to remain for much of 2021 and will help to build solid foundations for packaging in a rapidly-changing world.


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Written by Joshua Oates

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