Packaging Trends: The Resurgence of “Generic” Design

Generic or restrained? Maybe both.

You may remember generic consumer packaging that had its heyday in the early ’80s. The trend first appeared in 1981 during the recession that took hold of the American economy that same year. The basic idea was that these staple products were cheaper to the consumer, as the manufacturer was able to save on packaging and design costs. The truth for the manufacturer was the savings on packaging was minimal. The products still needed components to be stored in and needed some graphic design, albeit minimal. By 1988, the economy was doing better and the consumer was wary of the stigma that came with buying generic packaging. The trend had completely disappeared by the end of the year.

Fast forward to today; almost thirty years later, the style is coming back. Consumer packaging is taking a cue from the popularity of the anti-retouching, makeup-free marketing environment that has gained momentum through social media. Case in point: the crowdfunded brand Public Goods has embraced the generic packaging concept.


They chose pleasing fonts but kept the design very minimal. This reinforces their brand message of cutting out the middleman and reducing the supply chain to pass the savings on to the consumer.

This idea has also worked well in fashion, with the celebrity favorite brand, Everlane.


Brands in other categories have had success with this model. Warby Parker did it to eyewear and Purple has done it for mattresses.


Even larger established brands are participating in this trend. Honest Beauty has embraced minimalistic design with their beauty line. Their “clean beauty” brand message is supported by the restraint in packaging design.


Not only does the simple design play into the movement towards realism in our current culture, the idea of saving money is additionally attractive to consumers who are looking to trim costs from their wallets due to contemporary lifestyle costs such as cell phone bills, online monthly subscriptions and daily servings of avocado toast.