How do colour trends influence packaging design?

Harmony and tranquillity underpin Pantone’s Color of the Year 2016, but how has this filtered through to packaging design? Ceri Jones speaks to Echo Brand Design’s Maren Steffens about colour trends


Image: The emotional connection with colour plays a large role in the selection of Colour of the Year. Photo: courtesy of Pantone


From its origins as an agency working to standardise colour codes to today’s global authority on colour, Pantone Color Institute is renowned for influencing decisions across creative industries.

For the past few years the agency has assigned a colour of the day, year and a seasonal palette in order to stay at the forefront of design but also as part of a dualistic relationship with colour shifts; inspiring and responding to cultural factors.

Not since 2006’s Sand Dollar has there been a soft colour of the year, until this year. 2016’s crash together of Rose Quartz and Serenity are intended as a cultural response to times of decadence, and tumultuous richness, replacing it with gentle calm. But it’s more than just pastels, as for the first time, the institute has selected a blend of two colours – Rose Quartz and Serenity.

Pantone executive director Leatrice Eiseman comments in a press release that: “Strong, yet calming, romantic yet subtle, consumers are immediately drawn to this combination, making it an enticing shade for a variety of products from food and beverage to cosmetics and accessories.

“With packaging becoming increasingly more tied into lifestyle color trends, the combination of Serenity and Rose Quartz is a natural fit for many kinds of packaging materials.”

Colour à la mode

"It actually translates to whatever is closest to fashion, so in fragrance, cosmetics and beauty."

“In colour, the role of colour and the change of colour this season we are hugely influenced by what's happening in the fashion world, where we actually very strongly get direction per season on what are the key colours,” says creative director Maren Steffens of the multi-award-winning firm Echo Brand Design. “That then translates into, and gets accepted and accessorised, by fashion accessories/limited editions.”

Evidence of how deeply rooted Pantone is in the fashion world can be seen in the enthusiastic uptake of the duo across the industry, in everything from catwalk couture to Doc Martin boots, to home furnishings – but where does it fit into packaging?

“It actually translates to whatever is closest to fashion, so in fragrance, cosmetics and beauty,” Steffens says, adding that it is particularly apt for accessory products such as rose-based perfumes or rose gold jewellery.

Due to the time it takes to develop new lines it is highly unlikely that a company would repackage in order to reflect current trends, especially as the tones may not fit their existing branding or message. So there remains the problem of how best to use the pastel pink and blue but, according to Steffens, “you would probably adapt to the tonality of the colour if, say, you do a limited edition for a champagne - a rosé”.

“There is the use of colour and there is the role of colour – these are two very different things. It really depends, a little bit, on if you need to communicate it on a pack or if you're actually creating a toolkit for a brand,” she says. “You might not use it as a solid colour, you might use it as an accent, or you might use it as a secondary label.”

Displaying high-fashion colours on packaging has greater importance than simply adhering to popular culture, as Steffens explains that “if brands respond to current trends, it is literally that they are expressing that they are aligned with what's going on and in-tune with the trends”.

The premium palette

"There are no rules any more so you'll see a lot more in fluorescents, in colour-popping, different, bright colours."

“There are mini trends in colour, of course, per season, and then there are general shifts which are maybe every couple of years, and being in London we are right at the pulse of it,” Steffens says.

“You can see that when it comes to premuimising products or in the luxury sector, people will be more prone to reflect what's happening in fashion. We have to, as designers, constantly reinvent an expression of colour,” she adds. “We get inspired by fashion, interior design, art, culture, through fashion, but I think we have to constantly reinvent the role, what does it mean, what's the expression.”

Although this incessant reinvention may seem like a designer’s indulgence, it is actually an essential element to staying at the cutting-edge, as once a trend has been absorbed, it is no longer unique and piquing consumer awareness. These types of changes can be as basic as packaging colour.

“There used to be a time when if you wanted to premiumise or make something seem luxury you would just make it black, and then it became more about making it white - white became the new luxury colour code,” explains Echo marketing director Nellie Veltman. Fortunately, Veltman believes that with the luxury sector “turned on its head”, being influential designers enables them to create their own direction.

“And now I think colours being used in the luxury sector are a lot more individual,” she adds. “There are no rules any more so you'll see a lot more in fluorescents, in colour-popping, different, bright colours.”

Steffens agrees, saying that “It's basically a bolder approach.”  And this approach matches with Pantone’s broader aim of achieving maximum appeal.

Pink for girls, blue for boys

Choosing a colour to represent consumer desires for a whole 12 months is indeed a bold move and, as Eiseman says, “the emotional aspect of color is such a large facet of our decision-making, as we want to ensure that the colors we select are truly reflective of the collective mindset.”

Through the Rose Quartz and Serenity blend, Pantone not only hopes to imbue individuals with harmony but also transcend prescribed gender confinements.

Eiseman says: “Today’s genderless styling is not necessarily about trying to make a man look like a woman or a woman look like a man, it is about creating a canvas which can be adapted to any style.” However, given the years of marketing investment ploughed into engendering products and our automatic responses to them, is it that easy to break away?

“I think it's a changing world at the moment when it comes to gender neutralness [and] you can see it again stems from fashion,” agrees Steffens.

"I think it's a changing world at the moment when it comes to gender neutralness."

“Nike has really initiated that by almost keeping so close to the trend,” she adds. “With a Nike trainer, you can see that they're gender neutral and they're also quite individual [in] the way you can create and colour code your own trainer by choosing the labels and certain colours and the finishes and the texture.

“It’s become on the one side more and more personalised and individual in how colour speaks to you and what's your expression, but at the same time, we can see definitely a trend that it's becoming much more gender neutral and not the classic, in a lot of different sectors - like magenta for girls and sky blue for boys - they're actually staying away from the stereotypes and reinventing that.”

So although not entirely gender-less, as many of the main markets for Rose Quartz and Serenity are heavily, though not exclusively, female-focused (cosmetics, beauty and fragrance) but they are confronting gender stereotypes and opening up opportunities for flexibility and playfulness in design.

Eiseman says the Pantone “approach to color is coinciding with societal movements toward gender equality and fluidity, the consumers’ increased comfort with using color as a form of expression which includes a generation that has less concern about being typecast or judged.”

It is fitting that young, premium and socially-aware brands would choose to embrace these tones and get onboard with the cultural message, particularly as this shift is sure to keep going. As Steffens says: “It's an ever-changing, very exciting job to be in because we constantly have to reinvent what it means.”