Conscious and sustainable? Or artificial and ugly? Mirjam Grari looks at today’s packaging trends.

What are the biggest trends in packaging? How will new techniques affect our design and what will the future of packing design look like? Mirjam Grari, Trend Analyst at the design agency NINE in Stockholm, gave us her view.

First of all, how did you become a trend analyst and what does a trend analyst do?

After studying Business & Marketing at Stockholm University, I started working as a marketeer at the Absolut Company in Stockholm. This led me into working with trends and contemporary culture. As a trend analyst at NINE I work with identifying current and emerging consumer needs and trends. I do this both by observing present consumer behaviours, but also by analysing cultural codes and societal movements which will impact consumer behaviours in the long run. My work feed into the ideation and design processes at NINE to make the outcome based on actual consumer needs – and, by that, extremely powerful. This is all very exciting.

In general, there is a trend in consumers looking for honest products

Which are the biggest trends in packaging and design right now?

Many brands work with design around elements of craftsmanship, the old-fashioned and imperfection to highlight quality and uniqueness. However, these cues have recently been imitated by the mass which has watered down this aesthetics somehow. Obviously, the real crafted will still be seen as authentic and premium. Consumers have built an eye for what’s genuinely authentic and the “fake authentic”.

In general, there is a trend in consumers looking for honest products. And they don’t want to feel that they are marketed to. The craftsmanship trend has been dominant the last couple of years. And now we are beginning to see an anti-trend with the opposite: digital craft with 3D-printing techniques that will meet the same needs with unique and personalized, and more colourful design, almost artificial “ugly-design” with an ironic tone of voice. All this will surely question what we see as authentic and genuine – look at Omnipollo bottle design for example.

Another trend – which I’m confident we have so far just seen the tip of the iceberg of – is the smart, conscious and sustainable packaging, such as shifting to bio-based and recyclable material with minimal negative environmental impact.

How do new techniques affect packaging design?

We can expect packaging to be connected, interactive and intelligent with the help of new technology. The most important part is that it meets a need or solves a problem for the user. The crucial part is to understand how the technology can work together with the packaging in a way that doesn’t feel redundant or unnecessary.

I think we see a great example of this in pharmaceutical products where the packaging can be a part of the medication process and actually help users to know what, when and how much of the medicine to take. We also see techniques that can help solve the food-waste problem with packaging that senses when the expiry date is coming close, and can give consumers inspiration on what to make out of the food. In this way, packaging becomes much more interesting and much more important in a larger context of consuming a product or service.

Packaging design is supposed to be a part of the brand experience. How should we think about that?

The packaging is a part of the entire brand experience in all points of interaction that a consumer has with the packaging – from the point of purchase in front of a shelf or on the website, during usage (for example how the packaging opens/closes and how it sounds), during storage, to the disposal of the product and packaging. It’s a whole “packaging journey” that should be considered by brand owners. And all those points of interaction should leave the consumer with a positive experience. Many brands haven’t managed to solve even basic functions, such as closing or opening. This leaves consumers with a negative experience which affects the brand image in the long run.

For a modern and urban consumer, packaging needs to be stylish, convenient, smart and sustainable

What kind of packaging do the consumers want?

The importance of the packaging has increased and the entire packaging industry has undergone a premiumization. Consumers are now more than ever buying into a lifestyle and an identity, and this encompasses the packaging as well. For a modern and urban consumer, packaging needs to be stylish, convenient, smart and sustainable. Bunches – the new wrapping brand for flowers – is a great example.

What do you think the future of packaging design look like?

I think that the important question is how the role of the brand will change in the future. Consumers will be expecting more from brands in general and they will ask the question: “what is their reason for existing in this world?” That answer will be essential to all brand activities, including the packaging which will be an extended part of the brand. I think that the packaging will be more closely connected with the brand values. If your purpose as a brand is to create interactions between humans, then how can the packaging enhance this? Or, if one of your values is to create a positive environmental impact, then how can the packaging help enable leave a positive trace?