Is your product packaging ready for 2021?

With so much going on in the world, it would be easy to let packaging design slip your mind. But, that's not a trap you can afford to fall into. After all, you may have an awesome product, but packaging often does the selling.

Packaging design and graphics are too vital to be overlooked, thrown together, or left to grow outdated. That's why we forecast the major design trends in creative design so that businesses can ensure their ecommerce packaging remains relevant and aligned with what consumers want. In fact, we believe that product packaging design trends this year are more important than ever before.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on packaging design and the packaging industry as a whole. Packaging is not just a selling tool that helps build a strong brand identity. While packaging has always played a protective role, products today need additional protection from frequent shipping; and many consumers view packaging as an important barrier between your product and the virus.

It's time to take stock:

  • What are the packaging design trends in 2021?
  • How is your packaging performing?
  • What's new in the world of packaging design?
  • What updates does your packaging need to stay relevant and grow sales?


Let's examine what 2021 holds for packaging design and look at each design trend that will influence product packaging in 2021.

1. More protective packaging

Overall demand for protective packaging has increased. As a result of flatten-the-curve measures, 2020 saw a vast increase in e-commerce orders. That means more items are being shipped, overall, and shoppers value packaging that protects their purchases from the elements and possible viral exposure.

This is a positive design trend, whether you're selling products at retail or through e-commerce. As 2021 ramps up, businesses should prioritize e-commerce packaging designs that are sturdy enough to survive prolonged shipping and that cover as much of the physical product as possible.

  • Is your current packaging sturdy enough to hold up to additional shipping?
  • Does your current packaging leave parts of your product exposed to the elements? (This could happen, for example, if you have cut outs in your product packaging.)


If you answered "yes" to either of these questions, consider updating your packaging as soon as possible.

2. Porous packaging materials

Practical function is always a top consideration for packaging design — that's not a new design trend. However, there's a new practical factor to be considered — ease of viral transmission.

The National Institutes of Health study, which has become the primary guideline for how long the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive on various surfaces, states that the virus can survive, "…up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic…." In fact, porous surfaces (like cardboard or Mycelium mushroom packaging) seem to be less hospitable to the virus than non-porous surfaces in general.

Socially-conscious businesses are taking note. Favoring porous packaging whenever possible can help to minimize the coronavirus' ability to live on their packaging — further reducing the chance that their packaging could allow the virus to travel and spread.

This is why this trend is so powerful and poised to take center stage. We will soon see many businesses favoring porous packaging materials whenever possible.

Can your product be safely packaged in a porous packaging material? If the answer is yes and you're currently using plastic packaging, now is the time to make the switch.

3. Reassuring copy

The most effective packaging design resonates with potential customers where they are at that moment. Many shoppers today find their default state to be stressed, anxious or depressed.

We have found that both anxiety and depression have risen significantly in the wake of the pandemic. In fact, occurrences of anxiety symptoms in 2020 have approximately tripled compared to those reported during the same time period in 2019.

With virus cases at historically high levels, it doesn't look like stress or anxiety are likely to go away anytime soon. This is why businesses are using their packaging copy to reassure consumers, allay fears, and create more relevant brand messaging.

Smart marketers and business owners know that if a business can solve consumer problems and be a source of calm instead of stress, that business will earn customer loyalty. This is the reason smart companies leverage marketing psychology, including emotional marketing, to promote their products and services.

In fact, we're seeing a similar design trend in 2021 logos, with logo designers incorporating softer colors and reducing the use of black and white when designing brand identity for clients.

Assess your current packaging copy. What changes can you make to provide consumers with some peace of mind while telling your brand story?

4. Sustainable packaging

The buying public wants environmentally-friendly packaging. This has been true for quite some time, but the environmental need has become even more urgent in 2021.

As Dave Ford explains for Scientific American:

"Combine the breakdown of the recycling infrastructure in the West and in the developing world with the COVID-19-related explosion of single-use plastic, and you have a plastic tsunami gaining strength in our oceans."

This is a good packaging trend because consumers are aware of this urgency and packaging designers are eager to implement sustainable packaging design. A 2020 study by Trivium reports that 74 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.

Smart businesses will invest in sustainable packaging in 2021.

5. Clear typography

 Cleaning product CREDIT: Design by crowdspring packaging designer Muxalex

Customers want to get in and out of stores quickly and safely. The less time they spend inside, the better their chances are to avoid exposure to COVID-19. So, in 2021, packaging design is on a trajectory to facilitate quick, easy shopping.

Graphic design is an important element and can help solve this challenge and facilitate brand recognition.

Clear typography is easier to read from a distance, especially when combined with complementary color palettes and other design elements that help make the copy easy to read. This, combined with bold colors, helps package design catch shoppers' eyes, be identified as an item they need, and subsequently to be purchased.

Fonts that are difficult to read require more effort for people to identify. Avoid hard-to-read typography if your product is purchased in stores. When typography takes center stage, you can often give consumers a sneak peek at the products inside the packaging. This also helps to reassure them.

Take a look at your current package design. Are the fonts easy-to-read both up-close and from a distance? If not, it's time to choose new, clearer typography.

6. No assumptions

In 2020, shoppers found it hard to locate their usual brands on store shelves. When brand loyalty competes with survival instincts, brand loyalty and brand awareness both lose. This means that even loyal customers became free agents — willing to try new brands out of sheer necessity.

Heading into 2021, as the pandemic continues to impact the shipping and fulfillment infrastructure, shoppers will continue to try new brands in unprecedented numbers. To capitalize on this prime opportunity, your packaging design will need to capture shoppers' attention and make it instantly clear what sort of product will be found inside.

If you want to capture new customers, now is not the time for mystery, ambiguity or assumptions. Instead, it's the time for crystal-clear communication about your product and your brand.

Review your current packaging design. Is it clear to someone who doesn't know anything about your brand what your brand stands for? Is it easy to tell exactly what product is inside even if they've never seen it before?

Look at your packaging with a beginner's eyes. Then make any necessary changes to make your brand and product messaging crystal clear.

Developing a good strategy for product packaging design is tricky. There's a lot of competition and, as we pointed out, consumer buying patterns have changed significantly.

If you really want to differentiate your business, make sure the 2021 packaging design trends you follow represent your brand in an authentic way. After all, authenticity is important — it's a key factor all investors and lenders evaluate when reviewing your business plan, and it's a key driver to help you connect with your target audience.

Katie Lundin is a Marketing and Branding Specialist at crowdspring, a marketplace for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design and company naming services. She helps entrepreneurs, small businesses and agencies with branding, design and naming, and regularly writes about entrepreneurship, small business, and design on crowdspring's award-winning small business blog.