Scrolling through Amazon or strolling down an actual aisle— packaging design affects our purchasing decisions. Packaging isn’t just a vehicle that gets products safely from store to home, it’s part of the product experience. And thoughtful packaging is one more creative way to tell your brand’s story.

But it’s not just about attention-grabbing design. It’s about designing an experience that aligns with your audience’s values. These days that means minimal waste, sustainability, and creative engagement.

The all-encompassing world of packaging design

First, what do we mean by packaging design? It’s a big term that encompasses many different levels of decision-making. Obviously, packaging refers to the things we put things in. It would be a glass bottle of cold brew, a plastic chip bag, or a colorful cardboard cupcake box.

Packaging design includes the physicality of your packaging:

  • Packaging materials — paper, plastic, cardboard, glass, synthetics
  • Design elements — colors, fonts, logos, graphics
  • Messaging — taglines, slogans, instructions, engaging text

As well as cultural and environmental considerations, such as:

  • Functionality — does the packaging keep your product secure, hygienic, and undamaged? Is the packaging easy to “unbox,” or do you need scissors to open your scissors?
  • Sustainability — is your packaging compostable, recyclable, biodegradable, reusable?

When done right, these components come together to create a beautiful brand experience. And that experience drives customer loyalty and reinforces your brand story.

How consumer behavior is driving packaging design trends

Consumer behavior is evolving. And brands that fail to keep up will soon find themselves obsolete. From the explosive growth of eCommerce to an increased concern with sustainability, these are the top consumer behavior trends that should drive your packaging design decisions.

Less is definitely more

When it comes to packaging, minimalism is in. The majority of consumers want less wasteful packaging, which means less packaging overall. Especially when it comes to single-use plastics. And they’re not afraid to ask for it.

A repeat offender in recent years has been Trader Joe’s. From boxes of individually-wrapped tea packets to plastic-sheathed cucumbers, the store is notorious for their plastic (over)use.

And the grocery giant’s sustainably-minded audience noticed these unnecessary extras. Greenpeace (which identifies single-use plastic as a top environmental concern) noticed as well. They created a pressure campaign targeting Trader Joe’s, gathering more than 100,000 signatures.

The result? Trader Joe’s listened. In 2019, the chain removed 6 million pounds of plastic from its packaging. They’ve also vowed to continue improving their packaging design with a product-by-product evaluation.

It’s a case study in how today’s consumers drive change through their purchasing power. Our recommendation? Start looking at ways to reduce excess packaging material before Greenpeace puts on the pressure.

Plant-based is on the rise

Raise your hand if you’ve spent years obsessively snipping your six-pack rings into tiny pieces to protect seabirds, turtles, and fish. For decades, six-pack rings have been a menace to the natural world. And, despite the heart-wrenching consequences—deformed turtles, choking seals, tangled birds—many companies have left it to the consumer to mitigate the damage.

But your snipping days might soon be over. Innovators around the world are working on plant-based replacements that help instead of hurting the natural world. And consumers are into it. According to ArsTechnica, “market demand for bioplastics is ballooning, with global industrial output predicted to reach 2.62 million tonnes annually by 2023.”

Bioplastics are made from renewable biological resources. They serve the same function as traditional plastic. But they’re compostable (or even edible) and have little to no lasting, negative impact on the environment.

Research shows that 3/4 of consumers are aware of plant-based food and beverage packaging. And, according to a recent McKinsey survey, consumers are willing to pay more for “green” product packaging.

Yes, packaging design still matters in the digital age

After the year we just had, it’s easy to speculate that e-commerce is the future of all commerce.  Nasdaq even estimated that by 2040, 95% of all purchases will be made online. But just because brick-and-mortars will get less traffic doesn’t mean packaging design is obsolete.

We’re here to argue that packaging design is even more crucial in the digital age. Why? Because first impressions are important. And your online consumers don’t get to interact with your packaging ahead of time.

Think about the days when you’d go to a store, pick up different packages, weigh your options, and make a buying decision on the spot. With e-commerce, that first interaction doesn’t happen until your product lands on the buyer’s doorstep.

As Don Keller writes for Catalpha, “How a product arrives to a customer conveys a great deal of information about the level of quality and care that went into making the product itself.”

The relationship-building starts the moment your package lands on the consumer’s doorstep. And that nondescript cardboard box isn’t doing your brand any favors.

Packaging design should create value

Packaging isn’t just about what’s inside. It’s also a unique opportunity to represent your brand, tell your story, and build rapport with your customers. Just think about the mornings spent reading the back of your cereal boxes.

From the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the flour bag to Dollar Shave Clubs quippy box snippets, thoughtful packaging design provides value to the buyer. It should educate, entertain, or at least inform them how to get the most out of your product.

According to Packaging Digest, Ted Minnini, president of Design Force Inc., recommends creative packaging design for several reasons. Foremost among them: “consumers in general and millennials, in particular, seek experiences more than they look to acquire things. If consumers encounter magical experiences in their interactions with packaging, this will go a long way to cementing their relationships to specific brands.”

Telling your brand story through effective packaging design

It might sound absurd, but we believe that you should put as much time and effort into your packaging as your product. Thoughtful packaging design shows a level of care and attentiveness that today’s savvy consumers are sure to notice. Plus, it’s just one more way to uphold your brand’s overall story and messaging.

Here at Savy, we’re proud to help our clients create beautiful, sustainable packaging that communicates their brand values to the world. Check out our work with Little Red Wagon Granola and Northerly. Need help refreshing your packaging design? Put us to work.