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27 January 2020

Which trends in branding and packaging will prevail in 2020?

We discuss colour and style trends on the rise, plus the technological advancements we anticipate will impact the industry in the coming year…

The success of any agency depends on is its ability to predict, act on and proliferate trends – be they consumer buying trends or the aesthetics that appeal to your target market. As fickle and unpredictable as individual consumers can be, there’s perennial benefit to be found in examining the trends which may impact our industry. So with a new year and new decade underway, let’s unpack the biggest trends we expect to see throughout 2020 and beyond…


Cool, calming hues. Everyone talks about Pantone, but does the COTY really hold sway? In December its Colour of the Year, Classic Blue, was announced. As usual, the COTY choice has proved controversial, with some critics deriding the selection, labelling it overly safe and “the most democratic of colours”. But will Classic Blue help to establish with real certainty the cooling of colours long predicted by industry soothsayers? Will Classic Blue set the tone for the decade to come, finally ousting the corals and burnt oranges of recent years?

The truth is that Pantone’s Classic Blue will inevitably affect the colour choices of brands both large and small – some selections made with intention while others simply bandwagon jumping – ultimately influencing the branding and packaging sphere in a knock-on effect. Democratic or no, the cool shade of blue was joined by green as the dominant colours chosen by nearly all of the COTY denizens internationally. Thus you can expect to see cool colours taking hold, no matter how you may feel about the Pantone shade itself.


Retrofuturism. A marriage of nostalgia and science fiction, the term retrofuturist was first coined in a New York Times ad in the early 1980s. Akin to the way that Steampunk melds Industrial era character with advanced technology to create an eccentric, futuristic dystopia, retrofuturism is a concept you’ll be seeing this side of everywhere, as design trends of the past are reimagined with a new futuristic zeal in practically all forms of commercial design, from the updating of the automotive industry to apparel and beauty to home décor – perhaps you’ll notice it in a flying saucer-shaped bag from Louis Vuitton or a pair of butterfly sunglasses in acetate from Celine. For an example from the culinary sphere, look no further than the example from modern Mexican eatery Sonora, covered by Here, the blending together of compelling graphics, elongated typography and the boldest interplanetary red hue possible, give a jolting and supremely satisfying retrofuturist look.


Blur, white on clear, and negative space. As individual designers and agencies strive to surpass boundaries, disrupt the norm and engage in (healthy) competition, they push for ever more artful and unexpected label and packaging styles. Recently the process has led to a deconstruction of labels to their most fundamental purpose and components.

Deconstruction is further fuelled by innovations such as Digimarc, a smart barcode which provides optimised identification for easier checkout – for retailers and producers, it delivers better manufacturing quality control and supply chain management. Among consumers, it encourages engagement with marketing and additional data through mobile campaigns, improved media attribution and enhanced advertising monetization.

As technology enables brands to connect through technology, the role of the pack front and point of sale has evolved – the label itself is essentialised.

Equator is an industry leader in the application of Digimarc. To learn more about this technology, check out their website on .

As a result, the “white on clear” look is trending, skewing increasingly minimalist. Designers are dialling back on the proportion of packfront design, relative to the amount of product shown through transparent substrate underneath. In 2020, expect to see more designers using the colour of the products itself in their designs. The colour of a tomato on the packfront, for example, is simply a clear view into the lustrous red product within. We think you’ll also see more blurred shapes and colour blocks, giving an elusive, elemental aesthetic, while negative space used to convey simple shapes and used in origin storytelling, will continue to be popular with designers.


Eco-friendly. The trend toward better sustainability across our industry is far more than a simple carryover from last year. It is promulgating industry-wide, embedding itself and adding ever more levels of nuance. Operationally, tech is creating better efficiencies, with advanced MIS and business management software, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and fast-evolving IT possibilities, which will continue to make a significant contribution towards better energy usage by enabling the production of exact quantities, faster and more efficiently, with less wastage, and with real-time performance monitoring of production equipment.

In substrates, wrenching away from a now deep-seated reliance on petroleum-based plastics will test retailers’ and producers’ mettle in terms of agility and their capacity for risk-taking. While research into fibre-based paper packaging alternatives and bio-based plastics increases in scope and profile, the substrates’ availability is also widening. Meanwhile, proponents of oxo-biodegradable technology for use in short-life products are becoming more visible, advocating traditional plastics, which were designed to be supremely durable and despite the negative press still have a much lower global-warming potential than other materials used for packaging (according to LCA’s performed by Intertek) however they when possible should be upgraded for compostability… the issue is in implementation as food and beverage players incrementally change course.


As we start off the new decade, we are hardly near peak in the advancements of substrates and hardware, and it’s safe to say we are on the cusp of another wave of technological developments. The sweeping changes that have rocked the industry in the last decade show no signs of abating in the next, particularly as we race to minimise damage to the natural world and bring global climate change and CO2 emissions under control.


For more information on this year’s current trends in branding and packaging, contact the Equator team on where one of our experts will be in contact.