Oct 19, 2021

Pentawards: Unpacking design trends with Adam Ryan

From raising awareness to important social issues, to diversity, inclusivity and sustainability: We discuss the PENTAWARDS winners and design trends with head Adam Ryan.
Elisabeth Skoda

Are there any overall themes and trends you've observed with the competition entries this year?

Some of the themes and trends we spotted in this year’s winners include packaging that talks about important social issues, such as Supple Studio’s design for FRAHM Jackets that raises awareness of men’s mental health. Representing diversity and inclusivity was also an important theme of many entries, including The Creative Pack’s designs for Levain Bakery, as well as Love is Love olive oil and the exclusively braille packaging for Only for your eyes (Cold Brew Coffee), both by Supperstudio.

We also spotted a trend for reinvigorating traditional everyday products with packaging design that avoids photography on pack in favour of bold graphic design, such as Chinese design agency Xiaomi’s redesign of ‘spam’ luncheon meat that aims to target Gen-Z and Bold Scandinavia’s designs for food bags and toilet paper from Askul/Lohaco Japan.

Could you talk us through the judging process – what swung it for the winning entries this year?

This year, there are 45 members on the jury panel, including the 5-strong ‘sustainable jury’ - a new edition to the judging line-up. The jury members come from over 20 countries, including representatives from 16 brands and 24 design studios. Each project is judged on Quality of Design, Brand Expression, Creativity & Innovation, and Emotional Connection, and weighed up on its own merit.

This year, a Sustainable Design category was added to the Awards. What would you say defines a good, sustainable design? What sort of innovations would you personally like to see in the space?

In terms of what defines an award-winning sustainable design, for me it’s one that brings together packaging, product, beautiful brand design and a call to action seamlessly together in a way that demonstrates a genuine commitment to using sustainability. There were many great examples in this year’s winners, including the platinum winner in the sustainable design category: OCEANIQ by 2Yolk, a new line of vegan home-care detergents created for a supermarket chain in Greece. It combines packaging made of 100% recycled fishnets from oceans worldwide with mild cleansing, plant-based detergents that helps protect the ocean life depicted in the beautiful illustrations shown across the packs. There is a seamless link between brand, product, packaging and mission.

What were the reasons to add a Sustainability category to the Pentawards?

What is important to our community and the industry is important to us. Even despite Covid shaking the world, the importance of sustainability has not diminished and it will not be a passing trend. For the last 2 years we have had a Sustainable Design sub-category, and this year we launched a wider Sustainable Design category with 6 sub-categories, alongside the brand new Sustainable Design Jury panel to review these entries. The reason for this move is quite simple: we recognise the importance of supporting and encouraging more sustainable packaging across the industry.

Packaging has had a tumultuous couple of years, moving from villain (packaging and plastic waste etc.) to hero (keeping food safe during the pandemic) and back again. What role can good design play to create good, functional packaging that is also sustainable?  

What we are beginning to see is more innovation and a shift in how packaging and sustainable packaging is perceived – both by brands and consumers. There was a time where sustainable packaging was seen as unappealing, but we can see now more and more brands and agencies adopting this vision and excelling at merging sustainability with something that is still attractive - and even aspirational - to consumers.

We saw this with last year’s Diamond – Best of Show Award winner Air Company, who created the world’s first carbon negative vodka brand, Air Vodka, while retaining a luxury aesthetic. This approach to creating beautiful, functional packaging that also has sustainability at its core is something we saw even more of in this year’s entries, including this year’s Best of Show Award winner, Moët Hennessy and Stranger & Stranger’s stylish and sustainable design for luxury Cuban rum, Eminente Reserva.

In this way, good packaging design is showing both companies and consumers that sustainability is not necessarily a sacrifice or a diluted version of a product or experience, but can instead be an integral part of any product or packaging solution, regardless of sector or price point.

What trends do you anticipate in this area in the coming years?

The evolution of the sustainability movement will be an exciting trend to watch out for in the coming years, especially how luxury and sustainability continue to merge. It will also be interesting to see how sustainability interfaces with other growing trends within the packaging field, such as connected packaging that uses packaging as a means of facilitating immersive digital or AR experiences. Trends in ecommerce packaging will also be an important area to watch out for. As consumers become increasingly confident to buy all kinds of products online, not just groceries or essentials, the role of packaging and its sustainable requirements will shift.

There are a lot of pack designs that claim to be sustainable. How do you weed out greenwashing?

With the impact that packaging is having on the planet, the sustainability agenda has become one of the most important issues for the packaging industry. And there are no quick wins with sustainability. This needs to be an ongoing and long-term approach. This is part of the reason we brought the Sustainable Jury on board – experts who can identity where corners are being cut and were true efforts are being made.

Brands and design agencies need to be honest and accept that it’s okay if they haven’t got it right yet. There is no point trying to pretend everything is green or circular before something truly significant has been implemented. The opportunity to change is available, and needed. And we can see this in the growth of entries into our Sustainable Design category, reflecting the awareness and action that is being taken across the industry. When it comes to weeding out greenwashing, we have a specialist sustainable jury panel who are looking for evidence of genuine and robust commitment to sustainable materials and processes.

What are your thoughts of this year’s entries? Was it tricky to determine a winner?

I am always so impressed by the calibre of our winners, and this year is no exception. What is particularly inspiring and makes me feel proud to be part of the industry is the sheer amount of amazing creativity, diversity and innovation showcased in the entries, despite of the huge challenges we have all faced over the past 18 months. From addressing today’s social agenda to carving out sustainable packaging alternatives, I genuinely feel that this year’s entrants embody the future of the industry. The sheer amount of excellence on display also makes it tricky to determine a winner, but the breadth and diversity of expertise in the jury panel ensures that we consider the winners as carefully and as robustly as possible.

Elisabeth Skoda

Editor of Touchpoints magazine, writer for Packaging Europe magazine and design enthusiast!
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