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Dieline's 2019 Trend Report

by Bill McCool on 01/09/2019 | 20 Minute Read

On any given day, you’re bound to come across a piece of packaging. More than likely, you'll see a lot of it. Stroll through the grocery store or Target, maybe take a peek inside your cabinets or fridge—it's inescapable. Taken together, they probably paint a portrait of not only who you are as a consumer, but what is happening in your little corner of the world. You could probably even get a little insight as to how the world of design and branding is changing.

Well, this is what we do every year. We look into our crystal ball and tell you what the latest trends are for the next 365 days, what the world of packaging will look like, and how brands will continue to shape our world and tell their own story. And we’re going to get to that, don’t you worry.

Dieline has always been about the best in packaging, but the packaging is no longer the whole story. We also have to think about how we experience a brand, and how they are deeply intertwined with our lives and with the culture at large. You can’t talk about one without the other, and if we’re honest, Dieline isn’t just about packaging design anymore.

We’ve talked a lot about the future of packaging and branding, and while design is as fluid as ever, there was one thing that dominated our world this past year, and it’s sure to be a concern for every design agency and brand for the next decade as it continues to be vitally important to the industry—single-use plastic waste.

Brands Go All-In On Sustainability

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If it seems like every brand announced a lofty sustainability goal around packaging waste this past year, well, it’s because they did. In the world of packaging and branding, there was no bigger story.

Coca-Cola will recycle a bottle or can for every one they sell by 2030. McDonald’s said they would be fully sustainable by the year 2025. They also teamed up with Starbucks and announced the NextGen Cup Challenge with the purpose of creating a compostable, totally recyclable coffee cup.




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But they weren’t the only ones that announced recycling initiatives. Kellogg. PepsiCo. Kraft Heinz. Lego. Danone. Even a brand as universally loathed as Nestlé announced that they too wanted to get in on the action.

It’s incredibly important that this is happening now, and it’s long overdue. The National Geographic statistic everyone (including us) throws around paints an ugly picture about the state of recycling. 91% of plastic won’t make it inside a recycling bin, and if it doesn’t go there it ends up in a landfill, presumably for the next 450 years, or it finds its way into our waterways and our oceans (some 8 million tons of it every year).

In the past, we've treated China as our own personal waste receptacle, shipping 45% of the world’s recyclables to them, but in 2018, they enacted their National Sword Policy and banned 24 types of solid waste. 89% of the items shipped to China? Single-use food packaging. We make a lot of this stuff too. In 2015, 322 million pounds of polymers were manufactured, and between 2015 and 2026, we will make as much plastic since we started producing it. And why is this oh-so-relevant to the packaging community?

40% of the plastic we produce is for packaging.





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It needs to stop, and at the very least, there needs to be a significant reduction. Consumer demand is there. According to a 2015 Nielsen study, 72% of Millennials will spend more money on a product that is “committed to positive social and environmental impact.” If anything, brands are listening, and aside from some very obvious hurdles when it comes to our recycling infrastructure, there’s a sense of desire to do more.

Cosmetics retailer Lush have proven themselves to be a trailblazer when it comes to sustainable packaging and is sincerely trying to reduce their environmental footprint. All of their products in pots or bottles come packaged in post-consumer plastic, and if you save those pots and return them to store, you can receive free face masks. That pot can then be reused by Lush five times where it will eventually be melted down and turned into a shopping basket.


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Recently, they even opened their first “naked store” in Milan, a package-free shop, which isn't all that big a surprise as 35% of their products come with zero packaging already.

What Lush has brilliantly done is create an experience. From their Instagramable and weirdly psychedelic bath bombs to their naked stores— once staffed with employees wearing nothing but their birthday suits—they’re building something memorable for consumers and innovating creatively. 

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But it’s not just about experiences. You have to change consumer behavior, sometimes altering the way we experience a product entirely. NOHBO said sayonara to the shampoo bottle, and opted to create packaging that dissolves in water. Just lather the NOHBO shampoo ball in your hands and watch the water-soluble, biodegradable material melt away. Or stick with the bottled stuff and purchase brands like Kevin Murphy that use ocean plastic for their line of beauty care products. Getting consumers to change their behavior can be a nearly impossible task, but if a brand can create an experience around sustainability, something truly remarkable, it can be consequential in changing attitudes and our everyday routines.

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While no one can shake the national nightmare that is the KFC Double Down, the chicken king released a limited edition version of their sandwich abomination with an edible wrapper made of rice paper. Not only does the wrapper soak up all of the chicken and bacon deliciousness, but it’s beautifully designed and features catchy phrases about trays still not being something you can gnaw on.


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Speaking of edible packaging, why bother purchasing a water bottle when you can eat a gelatinous mass right after you’ve quenched your thirst? Ooho is water packaged in a sphere made of seaweed, and while some consumers might balk at the idea of having to eat their packaging, it's the kind of innovation necessary to make critical changes across the industry. Now that it’s knives out whenever a plastic straw is handed out, you could try something as practical as Lolistraw, an edible-and compostable straw. They can even be flavored to compliment the drink you’re enjoying, similar to Diageo’s new range of premixed cocktails with edible straws.




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Yes, you should package your goods in easily recyclable materials like aluminum and glass. But there’s a whole host of new materials designers might soon start working with like kombucha, fruit and vegetable peels, wetland weed, mushrooms, gourds, pitcher plants, and lobster shells. More and more, it seems like the possibilities for packaging are endless, and we’re only limited by our reliance upon traditional standbys. Designers have a responsibility to seek out better materials while divorcing themselves from the use of virgin plastic.




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Brands can also turn to bioplastics as well—these are new and old materials like wood pulp, plant cellulose, food waste, and algae. Basically, all the really cool, super-sciencey stuff of dreams that can be made into materials that look and feel like conventional plastic, are sourced through sustainable means and can be composted.

But, in order to pursue these types of materials, there’s needs to be better infrastructure in our waste streams and more industrial composting facilities across the globe so that we can create a meaningful closed loop around packaging waste.

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Even something as simple as the six-pack ring can be done away with. Carlsberg created their own little bit of wow this past year when they launched the “snap pack,” essentially gluing the 6-pack together, but allowing the consumer to snap off one of the cans. And while they weren’t using tiny beads of glue to hold their brews together magically, Corona became the first massive beer retailer to trial a plastic-free six-pack ring.

There are no perfect solutions. There are no silver bullets. But there is a real drive from every corner of the industry, every stakeholder in the lifecycle of a piece of packaging, from the brands and manufacturers, to designers, consumers, and the owners of our waste streams. Sure, a lot of brands have lofty sustainability goals that are five to ten years out. Can they actually get there? Who knows, and if they can’t, so what? What remains is a genuine attempt and a recognition that the status quo won’t stand anymore.




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But a brand can’t do this alone. Nor can a collective of concerned citizens and you sure as shit can’t regulate or govern your way out of it because to imagine so is comical at best and soul-crushing at worst. It’s speculative folly to believe that even our waste streams could figure it out themselves. So long as a designer sees a company’s bottom line and their staunch refusal to increase their cost of production by a few cents per package or bottle, then what’s the point? Hope is naive; meaningful action is pure imagination.

It’s no longer just about changing consumer behavior. Everyone has to come to the table, throw everything they can against the wall and see what sticks.

But most important of all, there needs to be an ongoing conversation. We can throw around statistics until we’re blue in the face, but there needs to be a profound sea change when it comes to our reliance on single-use plastics. It is when we start to use more desirable, sustainable materials that we can hope to begin closing the packaging waste loop.





Brands Take A Stand

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If we’ve learned anything since 2016 (or even the 2008 Financial Crisis if we’re honest), whether you like it or not, everything is political.

A brand is no longer an extension of our identity; it’s something that can be aspirational and forward-thinking. Nor is it just a reflection of our values; it’s a declaration about the communities we inhabit and participate in, the world we want to be a part of.

Musicians and sports stars are often told to stay in their lane, to shut up and sing, to leave it off the field, to keep their politics out of it, but is that even realistic anymore? If a middle-of-the-road and typically politically-abstinent entertainer like Taylor Swift can weight in on a midterm election, why can’t a brand speak out on the climate crisis?




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Brands have to take a stand, and for those who can navigate those politically tumultuous waters, they stand to make a handsome profit. 64% of consumers make a purchasing decision based on a brand’s political positioning.

Perhaps no brand better emphasized this over the past year than Nike with their advertisements celebrating the 30th anniversary of the "Just Do It" campaign featuring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick imploring you to “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Kaepernick made for a controversial spokesperson after he kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality and oppression against African Americans, seemingly dividing much of the country (President Trump’s tweets didn’t help). Many said they would boycott the brand, and some even took to YouTube to burn their Nike gear in protest of the commercial (instead of, ya know, giving it to a charity and being an all-around good human being).


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While some thought this was a risky gambit for Nike, you couldn’t even characterize the ad as outrageous or controversial after Nike’s sales went up by 31% during the Labor Day weekend runtime for the commercial. Or that they reported strong quarterly earnings during that particular time. 



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But it wasn’t just Nike staking out politically divisive territory. American Airlines instructed US immigration that they would not fly children separated from their families at the border as they refused to profit from the practice. Levi Strauss threw themselves into the middle of our neverending national gun control debate by teaming up with Everytown for Gun Safety and donating over $1 million to non-profit and activist groups seeking an end to gun violence.

Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh wrote in Fortune, “You may wonder why a company that doesn’t manufacture or sell guns is wading into this issue, but for us, it’s simple. Americans shouldn’t have to live in fear of gun violence. It’s an issue that affects all of us—all generations and all walks of life.”


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After Patagonia received a $10 million dollar windfall after President Trump’s regressive tax policies went into effect, the company announced that they would be donating it to “groups committed to protecting air, land and water and finding solutions to the climate crisis.

And this isn’t quite a risky position as one would think it is. Eight out ten people want action on climate change, and while the science is most certainly settled, there are many in the political sphere who would say otherwise while continuing to rollback much needed environmental regulations. If the US government cannot muster the political will to remain in something as essential as the Paris Agreement, then how can citizens bring about action on something as dire and consequential as climate change?

Yes, the personal is political, and we can expect more brands to jump into highly controversial topics while talking up their values, especially when public opinion is on their side.








The Rise of Fast Design

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Some of us came of age in the 90s, so you’ll have to forgive us if we didn’t see this happening because we honestly didn’t want it to come back. But here we are, and we have the playlists to help us get through it.

Vanity Fair recently did a piece on the rise of “scumbro” and its celebration of streetwear worn by the likes of Justin Bieber and Shia Lebouf. While it feels like a stretch to talk about the clothes someone puts on when schlepping to the bagel shop, it’s an ethos that’s worming its way into the world of design and our collective consciousness. It’s fast, and it doesn’t take itself seriously—the equivalent of a free-write in your journal, or undertaking a design challenge where you have 20 minutes to draw something up with one hand tied behind your back. Or in Jonah Hill's case, throwing on whatever you see first, which to be fair, some of us are still doing with the gusto of a thousand gap years and unpaid internships. It’s every color at once, every brush stroke—the kitchen sink approach to design with an extra helping of irony.




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You can even hear how they break down a design as they scream out their process across an open office floor plan.

How many patterns can you throw on one piece of packaging? What about a backdrop of pink or, jeez, how about just another pattern? What if the pattern is all tacos? What if they’re googly-eyed tacos riding unicorns? How many fonts can we cram onto this bottle? Three? Six? Six. And then maybe we’ll spray paint the logo over it. And add a palm tree. Awesome. Let’s put on Rick and Morty and call it a day.

So, yeah, basically weird 90s shit. Even with Pantone’s selection of Living Coral as the color of 2019, you know it wouldn’t be out of place on say, the latest cannabis packaging.




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But where did it come from and why does it look like Pete Davidson’s closet belched itself up onto every piece of packaging a Millennial or Gen Zer seems to touch?

It’s fast design, and just like Ettore Sottsass’s Memphis Group that liberally borrowed from Art Deco and every Formica table pattern from the 1950s, it likely doesn’t have much longevity behind it, but it was everywhere this year, and has been bubbling to the surface since you saw your first can of La Croix.




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It points to a carefree current we see in a lot of design today that leeches out into everything, including consumer tastes. We live in politically turbulent times, and we often wonder if the folks in charge are asleep at the wheel. Art can be a reflection of society and the world we live in; it can also be dogs playing poker. And while no one is making an argument for Kash Coolidge, there’s something to be said about escape and taking yourself out of the real world for just a moment so you can take a breath.

These are very serious, divisive times we live in—an era that seemingly questions who we want to be and what direction we want to go in— and there is a new school of designers soaking it all in. Instead of turning inward and reacting to it on a deeper level, they are creating work that doesn’t take itself seriously.

If done well, it not only has a playful feel but can have a timeless, kitschy pop art quality to it.

If there’s one industry that lives and dies by the very nature of fast design, it’s the craft brewing industry, with each brewer releasing multiple limited edition beers every year—you almost need to be able to churn out can after can as if you were working on a fast-paced assembly line.

Pang Pang, Stockholm’s first microbrewery, is one such beer maker that has elevated their packaging. Their bottled “Can Release” features a silver label shaped like a foaming beer that has a retro feel. Their pilsner (aptly named Pills, because duh) features two yellow and red pills against a band of pink, a vibrant and minimal design that goes down as easy the beer itself.




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While some CBD companies have opted for a clean, pharmaceutical look, Not Pot has embraced a cheerful, 70s inspired design complete with a bottle that looks like it features all of the stickers on your boomer uncle’s VW bus. But it’s those easy-going vibes that radiate from the bottle that help push the calming narrative for CBD itself. Similarly, kombucha brand FIX8 with its cut and paste qualities features bold colors and graphics of lions and lips that hint at the invigorating flavors within.




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So while fast design and the rise of the “scumbro” continues to pack their bowl to the beat of their own drum, when done well, it can be flamboyant and whimsical while also shining a light on the actual consumer experience. Just keep an eye out for this brazen style of design—before you know it, it will probably be gone.

That is if it isn’t already.





CBD Everything

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We live in an uncertain, anxious world. The wrong timeline. You don’t want to be high, you just want to feel fucking relaxed and calm for once in your life. And also presumably nowhere near your Twitter feed with its endless warnings of apocalypse and Cheetoh-colored tyrants.

Lucky for us there’s CBD.

CBD, otherwise known as cannabidiol, doesn’t contain THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis that gets you stoned. When isolated and derived from cannabis, it’s said to be an effective treatment for ailments like insomnia, PTSD, anxiety, pain relief, PMS, seizures and depression. It can even soothe cancer-related symptoms and cure your ailing libido.

And chances are, CBD is about to be everywhere.




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Mitch McConnell’s farm bill
was signed into law last December, essentially paving the way for legalized industrial hemp. And it’s not much of a stretch to see why the Senate Majority Leader would get behind the legislation as industry experts believe that the CBD market will hit $22 billion by 2022.

While many of the larger design firms and branding agencies have hesitated to work on anything cannabis-related as they view it as a tobacco-adjacent product, they seem to have no problem whatsoever working on CBD.

While most CBD products still look like something you’d buy in a hippy-dippy vitamin shop or wellness center, there’s some exceptional design work being done in the category. In fact, if there’s one part of the CBD sector that could potentially see massive growth, it’s beverage.




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Recess is CBD-infused seltzer water loaded with stress-relieving adaptogens that boosts immunity, and as they put it, “calms the mind and centers the body.” If an 8-pack didn’t set you back $40 bucks, it could easily replace your daily case of La Croix habit. With its minimal design and LA-inspired character, Vybes is yet another natural, CBD beverage that proselytizes this “gift from Mother Nature.”




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And don’t think that this is just for trendy sparkling waters or juices, even Coke wants in on the action as they have yet to meet a beverage fad they could pass up, especially if it helps them find an alternative to sugary colas.

Foria, on the other hand, is looking to bring CBD into the boudoir. Chic and sophisticated in appearance, this intimate massage oil not only enhances the overall pleasure of sex but for some it has alleviated the pain of intercourse that some women experience. Foria has also dipped their toes in the menstrual cramp relief business with CBD-laced vaginal suppositories.




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There are numerous tinctures and balms, CBD sticks like Wildflower that rolls like deodorant and promises solace from muscle and joint pain. You can even buy CBD bath bombs from Life Flower, and they’re sure to guarantee you a picture-perfect Instagrammable experience, albeit one that’s ever-so chill.




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What’s more, a recent survey found that nearly half of CBD users were no longer using over the counter pain relievers like Tylenol (or even harder stuff like Vicodin), instead choosing to replace them with, you guessed it, CBD.

While CBD could be yet another miracle drug or snake oil, its destiny lies beyond the doors of dispensaries, and with the legalization of industrialized hemp, it’s only a matter of time until CBD becomes the next over the counter, catch-all pain reliever.




Typography is King & Queen

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It’s a good time to have a font obsession.

When was the last time you said, I need to Google something? Or how about, I’m Ubering to the bar? Or, I’m Airbnb-ing for the wedding? And what about totes Mountain Dew-ing this 7-meter high half pipe with Bird Box goggles on?

Ok, that’s not really one, but it could be, and it sounds all kinds of EXTREME. The point is, taking the name of your brand and turning it into a verb is manna from heaven. You're not searching for something, you're not having someone else drive you somewhere, and you're definitely not sleeping over at a stranger’s house. For a brand, if they can take an everyday action and turn their name into an actual verb, they own their category.

Which is why typography is more important than ever. Typography IS the logo, it IS the brand.

Brands love typography so much that they're creating their own proprietary custom typefaces. Hell, we even did it.



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Airbnb turned to Dalton Maag for their custom typeface “Airbnb Cereal” because, as they put it, it was a “building block for creating meaningful connections around the world. As a company that’s designing online and offline experiences, we saw a clear opportunity to create a distinct typeface that can carry the weight of both—to leap off the screen to a magazine.” Your typeface isn’t just going to live in a print ad— it’s a part of your UX, it’s on the packaging, and it’s something that is becoming a living entity. Above all though, it has to be consistent with a stable shelflife for all of its intended platforms.




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Speaking of Dalton Maag, they’re the same studio that dreamed up Netflix Sans, another custom typeface. Netflix decided to drop their previous usage of Gotham, a move that ultimately made a great deal of sense as licensing a font can be incredibly costly, especially when they seem to debut nearly a thousand shows a week.




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JKR recently redesigned Dunkin Donuts, and what they found was that typography is central to the brand. As our own Theresa Christine wrote last year, “unlike an apple which can represent technology or a domino which represents pizza, 'Dunkin’ is a verb, and considerably more difficult to express in one icon. Since Dunkin’ can stand for a lot of different things (coffee, donuts, breakfast sandwiches, and more), it made sense to dig into the typeface.”




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They decided to bring in Colophon Foundry, and they created Dunkin’ Sans, a type based on Frankfurter, aka, the same font the donut luminaries have been using since the 1970s.

"The rise in proprietary typefaces is a response to how we now primarily engage with brands through digital media," says Global Executive Creative Director of Jones Knowles Ritchie Tosh Hall. "Custom fonts ease the challenges of staying consistent across thousands of touchpoints and differentiating in a crowded space, while constantly engaging with consumers. In today’s world where consumers desire a branded experience rather than branding, these typefaces are a clever way to build a brand recognition without overwhelming the audience."

"The font nerd inside me likes nothing more than spending every waking moment creating a new type, but we must make sure we're doing it for the right reasons," he adds, "that brands actually need something proprietary and there isn't a pre-existing option that works perfectly. When you have typography as iconic as Dunkin', it would be a crime not to build on it."

Ultimately it’s a font that has plenty of personality, and it’s a great way to inject some character into the storied brand. It runs counter to doing what the most obvious thing might be like crafting a more visual logo that plays on the brand’s name and identity. Think of it as your crazy aunt making her own birthday invites and using Comic Sans to make everything burn a little brighter.




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The point is, a distinctive, simple logo can feel timeless, and if done well, can help a brand own their category. Look at how FedEx utilized Futura or eBay’s use of Univers—both are incredibly memorable, nor are they incredibly busy as say, eBay’s original logo from the 90s.

Legendary graphic designer Paul Rand once said, “A logo cannot survive unless it is designed with the utmost simplicity and restraint.” But even with an original aesthetic—and a healthy dose of restraint— you have to get at the heart of a brand. Designers not only have to dig deep into who the brand is but how it’s going to live in the world and interact with the public, creating something that's ownable and recognizable from the first moment you glance at it.





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