2013 Beauty Packaging Identity Trends

Published in GCI Magazine, September 2013

Packaging is one of the most important parts of a brand’s presence in today’s crowded marketplace. It is the functional delivery system for the product and has to work effectively and thoughtfully. It is the billboard for the brand and should convey a story and a personality. And it is the physical space for product messaging and must also convey benefits and instruction. Packaging is often the first and only interaction a consumer has with a brand, and can be solely responsible for influencing purchase decisions. For this reason, beauty companies tend to invest more in packaging design than in any other brand touch point.

As in any consumer market, beauty packaging is susceptible to trends taking place in the industry. Sometimes it’s clear that the brand is intentionally following a trend with a seasonal or limited product offering, while other times a brand’s identity falls into a trend even if the package design authentically reflects a brand’s core identity. It’s important to remember that analyzing and understanding trends is necessary for staying current and informed, but can also be detrimental to standing out in a crowded marketplace if followed blindly. The best brands stand for a big idea, and reflect the company’s personality while effectively conveying the product’s properties and benefits. Some trends can simply be fads that come and go quickly, while others endure the test of time and become visual styles with staying power.

This article explores a range of beauty packaging trends taking place in 2013 and includes both superficial visual observations and more thoughtful analysis of brand identity expression. The following represents an audit of notable packaging identity trends for products currently in the marketplace:


Trend #1: Sustainable

The trend towards sustainability in packaging follows a broader cultural shift in consumer thinking and can be seen in almost all categories. I hesitate to call sustainability a trend as it’s really more of a movement – consumers expect corporate responsibility in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Current research even says that women will choose a brand that is socially responsible over another if product benefits and price are competitive. Brands with sustainable packaging typically reflect the product itself – for example, the formulas are often biodegradable, non-toxic, or otherwise eco-friendly in nature. In this trend, both the primary and secondary packaging tends to be manufactured from sustainable materials.

Many companies with brands that follow this trend are visually sustainable, meaning they communicate a natural or eco-friendly look and feel at first glance. Sustainable packaging identities tend to have neutral color palettes or are completely stripped down to the packaging substrate itself. For example, TAY’s skincare line is packaged in 100% eco-friendly bamboo and recyclable PET plastic containers that are long-lasting and can be refilled and reused. The bamboo texture is the primary visual read and graphics are kept minimal to keep from distracting from the natural beauty of the material.

Since many of the brands with sustainable packaging are responsible in their corporate practices, there is also often a cause marketing tie-in with some of the products in this category. For example, Method’s innovative Ocean Plastic bottles are made from a blend of recovered ocean plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic, which results in a unique gray resin that is intentionally left “naked.” The Ocean Plastic initiative is designed to raise awareness about cleaning up the world’s oceans – Method employees even hand-collect plastic from the beaches of Hawaii for conversion into packaging.

Another example of clever sustainable packaging is Lush’s Little Green Bag, which is designed with minimal and reusable packaging. A selection of five unpackaged cosmetics and a durable aluminum tin are wrapped up in an organic cotton scarf, woven and screen printed by a non-profit women’s co-operative in India. The only traditional packaging structure is a recyclable cardboard sleeve with instructions on how to use the products, a game, and instruction on how to rewrap the scarf with traditional Japanese techniques. There’s even a ‘face sticker’ on the label of the person who packed it for you.

The sustainability trend isn’t limited to just boutique specialty brands – mass retail brands such as Pantene are also getting into the mix. Pantene uses plant-based plastic bottles for their Pro-V Nature Fusion line, which are made from more naturally derived ingredients such as Cassia.


Trend #2: Animal Print

This next trend is purely visual, and is much more fun and playful in nature. Many current package designs out there today have either a graphic or tactile animal print element, which can be seen in both the primary and secondary packaging. The products within this category are highly decorative in nature, and are often influenced by fashion design and trends.

The brand within this trend with the most obvious ties to fashion is Jimmy Choo. The Eau de Parfum secondary packaging structure features a pink snakeskin that is a direct nod to the shoe designer’s leathers. Tarte also has a fashionable slant to their brand identity, with an “eco-chic” brand story that describes their philosophy of packaging their natural cosmetics line in runway-inspired cases. For example, their Lights, Camera, Lashes mascara has an embossed purple snakeskin pattern on both the primary and secondary packaging.

In addition to looking like a fashion accessory, the high contrast repetition of animal print can also simply serve as eye-catching patterns on the shelf – particularly when paired with bright or unexpected color palettes. Victoria Secret’s Pink All My Heart fragrance features high contrast black, white and pink leopard print as the main identity on both the primary and secondary packaging. Pinch Provisions Minimergency Kit utilizes a bright teal snake-like pattern on the product, which shows through the clear packaging structure.


Trend #3: Nautical

Because of the current season, there are a large number of beauty products that are using a nautical or beach theme in their packaging, with some as seasonal offerings and some as permanent expressions of the brand identity. The packages within this trend use elements such as cool color palettes, misty gradations, nautical ropes, and water-inspired illustrations or patterns.

Some of the brands within this trend make simple, subtle references to the ocean or beach. For example, Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue fragrance has an abstract misty ocean blue pattern that is also reminiscent of pool reflections. Other brands more literally reference the ocean. For example, Crabtree & Evelyn Himilayan Blue features ocean-inspired graphics that feel like vintage botanical illustrations.

Brands in this category are even taking the nautical or beach theme all the way from their brand name to the packaging identity. Victoria’s Secret Bombshell in Paradise has ocean blue gradations on their primary packaging, and the secondary packaging features additional nautical themes such as rope graphics, travel stamps, and a gold foil stamped seal. Lush’s limited edition Beach Box has five beach-inspired products packaged in an eco-friendly barn box structure made from craft paper and printed with a bright seaweed pattern and casual hand-made looking typography with facts about ocean conservation printed on it.


Trend #4: Food

This next trend is one of the most of all explored in this article on a conceptual level, and many of the products that fall within it have a distinct novelty feel to them. The packages in this trend feature food-inspired visuals, almost always playing off of the scent cue of the product inside. The packaging identity is fun, cheerful, and optimistic in tone and often features illustration or photography of food.

One of the first health & beauty industry companies to successfully adopt food inspiration to their product packaging is Cucina. Cucina means kitchen in Italian, and their brand and packaging takes inspiration from kitchen ingredients and real food packaging. Many of their primary components take direct inspiration from food and are reminiscent of traditional olive oil, cheese, and honey packaging. The Cucina packaging identity also utilizes illustrations of fruit, with additional subtle references to vintage food packages such as stamps and seals that were originally designed to keep freshness in. More recently, Bath & Body Works has also adopted a tongue-in-cheek approach with their Fresh Picked collection both visually and in the messaging, with vibrant food photography on the labels and unique secondary structures that resemble fruit crates and carriers.

In some instances, both the product and the packaging are food-inspired. Korean skincare line Skin Food (launched recently in the US in 2011) centers its entire brand around the food ingredients in the formulations. Like Cucina, their packaging is also inspired by food packaging structures often directly related to the product inside. For example, their Steam Milk Essence Mist is packaged in a milk carton structure and includes a graphic cow print and typography that resembles nutrition facts found on food labels.

In beauty packaging within this trend, food references can also be more abstract, artistic, or decorative. For example, Issey Miyake’s L’eau D’Issey summer edition packaging features abstract gestural interpretations of fruit such as pomegranates and kiwis. Crabtree & Evelyn Avocado Olive & Basil line has a decorative avocado pattern on the soap and a vintage botanical inspired illustration on the pumps and secondary carton structures.


Trend #5: Wallpaper

Packaging with ornamental patterns as the primary identity is a common trend found in the beauty industry and is widely seen in almost all beauty sub categories including cosmetics, fragrance, and skincare. These packages feature patterns that are reminiscent of wallpaper seen in home décor and tend to be fun, feminine, and decorative in nature.

Much like the food-inspired trend, many of these packages have graphics that visually reference the scent or ingredient inside. Crabtree & Evelyn Tarocco Orange features a monochromatic botanical pattern on the vintage wallpaper design on its secondary packaging. Origins Warm Up candle packaging’s pattern is both floral and fruit-inspired to communicate the combination of orange, ginger, and amber scents of the product.

Some of the designs seen in this trend mimic either a cultural or vintage pattern. Charlotte Ronson Summer Always has a packaging identity with a tribal pattern, with interlocking diamond shapes woven between the typography in the package design. Fresh’s Mangosteen soap has a vintage floral pattern, with a circular seal element and wire tie completing the overall traditional regal feel. Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess utilizes a pattern that references 60’s or 70’s era textile designs with a vintage color palette.


Trend #6: Sculptural

The next grouping of products have an artistic, sculptural feel – like little works of art. Not surprisingly, all are in the fragrance category. Since fragrance is a higher price point and has a longer shelf life, the package designs allow for the more intensive process involved with developing a custom component. These products also live on the customer’s dressing table after purchase, so having something that feels like a premium home accessory is important to the design and can influence the customer’s purchase decision.

In this trend, the forms can range from expressive to simple. On the more intricate side, Thierry Mugler Angel has a sculpted, dynamic, angular asymmetric form with a dimensional star shape at the cap. Justin Bieber’s Girlfriend fragrance is a relatively simple oblong shape but is enclosed by a series of overlapping expressive circle shapes in various bright colors that resemble stacked bangles. Marc Jacobs Dot is a more playful take on a complex structural form, with embellishments that resemble flower petals and red and white spots that look like a ladybug.

In the packages that are more simple and minimal in nature, many have references to architecture or industrial design. Issey Miyake’s L’eau D’Issey is a tall, thin tapering triangular shape with a clean white and silver color palette to help draw attention to the form. Carolina Herrera’s 212 fragrance is a unique oblong pill-shaped design that feels clean and singular. DKNY’s Be Delicious is also a relatively minimal form, and has an abstract shape that is reminiscent of a piece of fruit.

The design of these packages can also conjure an image of the broad concept or celebrity behind them. For example, Lady Gaga’s Fame fragrance has a relatively simple oval-shaped form at the base but with added sharp gothic inspired embellishments that reference her edgy personal brand.


Trend #7: Alternate Typography

Typography is one of the most important elements most designs as it usually conveys the brand name and key messaging on the most prominent panels of the package. Another trend in current packaging is alternate typography, with identities that utilize handwriting-inspired letterforms, multi-cultural letterforms, and other non-traditional letterforms.

Bumble & Bumble uses alternate typography at the root of their brand with an expressive, hand-made feeling logo and fonts on almost all their products. In one of their newer products, Sumo Wax, they use Japanese-inspired characters in a vertical configuration to create the unique packaging identity for this product. Bath & Body Works has also employed the use of alternate typography in some of their newer scents, with Pink Chiffon and Carried Away fragrance collections both utilizing funky typography styles that feel like a hand-written note or scrapbook.

Other brands are using alternate typography with accompanying doodles to give the overall package design look even more personality. Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire gift set has handwritten cursive typography all over the front panel, with illustrative doodles of a woman, ruffles, and a building coming together in a unique design. Lancome’s Show collection by Alber Elbaz also uses hand-made sketchy illustration and typography to give the packaging a sense of personality and reference the designer’s personal touch.