Rigid Box Trends: Understated Elegance Online and in Person

By: Brian Westerlind

When it comes to high-end packaging, form is as important as function. Beyond protecting sought-after goods, what’s needed is brand power—the ability to create a sense of luxury and prestige in the unique language of a particular brand. Made of strong paperboard overlaid with printed and embellished paper, leather, or fabric wraps, rigid boxes offer an excellent mix of product protection and perceived luxury.

The Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC)—the national association for the manufacturers of paperboard packaging—recently brought together several design firms and rigid box manufacturers to discuss design and market trends in rigid box making. Here are their top insights.

Top Trend: Understated Elegance

In today’s cluttered, hectic world, consumers crave simplicity and understated elegance. Translated to rigid boxes, this means muted, natural designs that demonstrate sophistication and quality. According to Haden Gaynor of Nirvana Creative Production House, “The best ideas are always the simplest. We’re able to strip back complicated, unnecessary elements by helping our clients understand beautiful uncoated stocks and forgotten processes and textures.”

When Tap Packaging Solutions was asked to manufacture a rigid box for Anthropologie’s Leitmotiv Eau De Parfum, they took that spirit of stripped-back elegance to heart. Tap aptly chose a muted palette of blue and pink that’s accentuated by tasteful, restrained gold foil stamping. Notice that the design doesn’t rely on glossy coating or excessive glitz. The spare foil on the front panel and side adds just the right touch of glamor. Of course, understated doesn’t mean boring: an irregular, slanted-hinge opening reveals the perfume bottles inside, which are protected by paperboard sleeves that match the outer wrap. A great example of current design sensibilities, Tap’s box went on to win Rigid Box of the Year in PPC’s 2016 Design Competition.

Growing Markets: E-Commerce, Cannabis

As luxury brands increase their digital presence, more and more rigid boxes are traveling directly to consumers’ doors. Yet these rigid boxes have a different design objective than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Cole Johnston, Executive Creative Director of Creative Retail Packaging, remarked, “The role of packaging is rapidly changing because of e-commerce. Packaging for the digital world must create a unique experience for consumers that replaces the retail impression.”

Rigid boxes can create such an impression through a long, memorable unboxing experience. Consider Burt Rigid Box’s design for online beauty brand Glossier’s limited-edition face mask set. Holding 12 Nespresso-like serving pods of face cream, this multilayer package includes an uncoated pastel pink sleeve, a concrete-white rigid box, and a vellum sheet and die-cut trays that resemble sumptuous chocolate packaging. As the consumer opens each element, the excitement builds while they recognize familiar elements in Glossier’s brand context. The design also offers a surprise: a plush headband cleverly peeks out from below the tray when a pod is removed. These details create a memorable unveiling experience in person, as well as a photo- and video-ready experience for the web.

Recreational and medicinal cannabis is another growing sector for rigid boxes. “The cannabis market leans towards high-end packaging,” said Stacy Warneke, president of Warneke Paper Box. “It’s an emerging market, so our customers want to build brand recognition with specialty effects such as foil stamping, embossing, debossing, and coatings. Everyone wants something different, but it is all premium.”

Warneke recently manufactured rigid boxes for Snoop Dogg’s line of high-end marijuana products, Leafs By Snoop. Highlighting the brand and providing a tactile experience, the box’s white lid features a special spot application of velvety soft touch coating in the pattern of marijuana leaves. The contrasting base peeks out from below the lid, drawing in the consumer with colorful imagery that’s further revealed upon opening. The Leafs By Snoop line features several cannabis strains, each of which is distinguished by different images on the base. This simple yet striking design puts the brand first while incorporating special elements that offer consumers a unique experience.

When designers consider packaging formats for small, high-end products like smartphones and jewelry, rigid boxes generally make the shortlist. But as the cannabis segment and other, less traditional markets seek luxury packaging, designers should keep the strong, brand-forward rigid box in mind. And while understated elegance is the design standard today, rigid boxes offer the flexibility needed to realize the trends of tomorrow.

Brian Westerlind
Brian Westerlind is the Communications Manager for the Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC), the North American trade association for folding carton and rigid box manufacturers. PPC helps its member companies to succeed in the marketplace and is also dedicated to sharing trends and insights with the design community.