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Making consumer connections

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As we experience a shift from a standardised ‘one size fits all’ paradigm, to a smart and adaptive approach ushered in by sustainability, the way people perceive the value of packaging is changing dramatically.

In the last few years, from our focus group research, we have identified a need for packaging that is justified and considered, with brands using 2D and 3D design to help showcase packaging relevance, grounded in responding to our need for sustainability and security. 

How can designers be sustainable?

In The Fourth Age, sustainability is needed ideally in its structure but also there is a need for a deeper sense of purpose and consumer connection.

Reduce plastic packaging

“I want them to be honest on the packaging about the product inside.”

There is a greater consumer need for honesty, favouring brands who are able adopt a new stripped back tone of voice. In terms of both 2D and 3D, we are seeing less frivolous packaging, with design codes focusing on what is relevant. Brands have started to further develop their purpose, creating deeper engagement with customers, helping differentiation and creating lasting resonance.

Streamline packaging 

“I don’t want any unnecessary packaging.” 

There have been huge shifts in consumer behaviour around sustainability. 3D structures now need to be genuinely focused on being the right structure for the job. Anything superfluous is caught out – and more than ever, everything has to earn its place.

Limit to suitable packaging

“I want to put it into my bag and carry it around, knowing that the top isn’t going to leak or the pack break.”

Consumers are now welcoming effortless, often compact packs that are convenient and always available, with the addition of clearer benefits helping them to navigate choices. In The Fourth Age, the value of structural packaging will move from simply adding protection, to becoming core to the product in its own right, changing the way that consumers interact with the pack. We are also seeing these changing consumer attitudes influence the rise in material development techniques. 

Limited quantity packaging

 “I want them to send me a supplement that just gives me what I need; not all these other things they chuck in there to cover as many people as possible.”

Customisation is now moving from the frivolous named Coke bottles to personalisation that fits the new ‘less waste’ world. In The Fourth Age, to satisfy this change in consumer attitude, we expect manufacturing processes to lean even more on developments in AI to help prepare personalised products for consumers on a mass scale, using a combination of automation and data.

Recyclable packaging

“It’s hard to understand what to do with all the different bits.”

While consumers aren’t all fully converted to the importance of recycling, the shift is coming through loud and clear in any category where convenience isn’t dominant. There is currently a struggle to differentiate and decode the sustainability messages on pack and many only engage in recycling sporadically. This consumer attitude has created a greater focus on refining disposal behaviour, with the emergence of packaging systems and solutions that are driving the adoption of re-use, helping them to become fully circular.

We’re finding consumers are driven by needs where all elements can be justified, where nothing is wasteful. A world where brands show a real care and concern for both the consumer’s practical needs, as well as those of the wider world. 

The result may well be both something that is more stripped back but also more customised to individual needs. As manufacturers and brands, we need to make sure we are seen as genuine, relevant and avoid unnecessary extras to meet their growing need for a smaller and more intelligent footprint.


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