Invasion of the Dramatic Shadows

(Yes, I wrote the title of this blog to sound like a Harry Potter Book.) 

I spend hours of my week, perusing Pinterest. It’s my absolute favorite method of social media, and I’m not even being social (which says something about my personality). I glean much of my knowledge of trends by what I see on Pinterest. Lately, I’ve been especially taken by dramatic shadows, a micro-trend that I started noticing in mid-2019.

Back in 2019, this trend started with photography – objects artfully spread across a backdrop, with vivid colors and intense shadows at interesting angles. I’ve provided some examples below for your viewing pleasure.

From right to left, photos by Alinne Marst, Unknown, and The Prop Dispensary.

Graphic design soon realized that Photography can’t have ALL the fun. Soon, this trend began bleeding into packaging design and its subsequent product mockup imagery.

To be a designer these days, you need to be clever. This Optimist packaging, alone, is striking all by itself – the giant “O” logo; the “A-Okay” hand symbol as their “mark”; the curved type around the logo; using only two, bold colors; the stream coming off the “O” with the reversed pattern. But their product images are clever. Really clever. They’ve used the technique of a dramatic shadow, and made the shadow mirror the same position and angle as the shadow coming off of the “O” in the packaging. It’s shadow inception!

The Optimist brand and packaging were designed by Galya Akhmetzyanova and Pavla Chuykina

In B.T.R. Bar Brand’s product imagery, you see the same effect. They used a shadow in their design, coming off of the “B. T. R.”. And then they’ve mirrored that shadow in the product images. This shadow is designed to look unrealistic, as they’ve used the same background color in their packaging, as the color of the shadow. But the technique is the same. (And you can even see this shadow applied to the cherries in the bottom left.)

The Dramatic Shadow effect does a good job at conveying movement, which can be difficult for something as static as a vector image.

The B.T.R. brand and packaging were designed by Riser.

Last but not least, I decided last summer to use this technique in my own product mockup imagery for the portfolio on my website! I love how it provides a uniform look to all of my projects. The trick, though, is to balance uniformity with unexpectedness. Too much of a good thing is never good, so I sprinkled in some live photography as well.

Here are a few examples of how I used this technique in my own work. Enjoy!

Make No Mystique – How Astrology’s Influence Has Spread Like Omicron

ASTROLOGY LESSON TIME: Let’s go back to late 2012 – remember when there was talk of the world ending on 12/21/12 because that date marked the end of the Mayan calendar? I realized recently that 12/21/12 had significance for another major reason – on this date, the Earth’s vernal equinox officially passed from Pisces into the Aquarius constellation, marking the “Age of Aquarius”.

Recently, there’s been a SIGNIFICANT rise in astrological interest. These days, knowing your birth horoscope (sun sign) is not enough – the average Gen Z-er can also recite their moon and rising sign, and [Surprise!], there is also a “sign” for each planet, further fueling our desire to understand ourselves and what makes us unique from one another.

Whether you’ve jumped on the astrology train or not, one thing is certain – it’s impact spreads further than the Co-Star app. Astrology has begun to influence graphic design in a big way.

First and foremost are mystical fonts. Gone are the days of the traditional Garamond and Times New Roman. We’ve tossed those aside for more interesting serif fonts, such as Etoile and Voyage, that feature more dangerous curves and dramatic transitions in stroke weight, as if the characters were inked with a long-tipped calligraphy pen. These fonts have a mystical feel about them, like you’d expect to find them in an 1800’s-style apothecary shop, labeling potions and elixirs.

Above are examples of the fonts Etoile and Voyage.

Take this graphic trend one step further, and you’ve got a defined packaging design style, accepted by:

  • thin-lined, one-color illustrations of hands, suns, moons, botanicals, and animals
  • use of arch-like shapes
  • small tertiary text that’s utilized almost as a background texture or border
  • intricate frames bordering the principal display panel, oftentimes with tiny detailing

I’ve attached some of my favorite examples from the Packaging Inspo Style Category: Mystical. Find me on Pinterest for more clips of Mystical packaging designs! @goldsparkdesign

Examples above are by Peter Francis Laxalt, Hype Group, and Magpie Studio.

Micro-Trend: Filled-In Closed Counter Type

Late last year, as I was soaking up the final season of Insecure, a micro-trend came to my attention: filled-in closed counter type. Let’s back up…

My letterform terminology is too rusty for a can of Coke, but after a bit of Googling, I came across the term “closed counters”. This is the space that is entirely enclosed by a letterform.

Letterforms containing closed counters include uppercased A, B, D, O, P, Q, R, lowercased a, b, d, e, g, o, p, and q, and the numbers 0, 4, 6, 8, and 9. Writing or printing these letterforms is no harder than writing or printing letterforms without closed counters. But when letters are cut out, like on signage, closed counter letters pose a problem, because until sign-making substrates have the ability to float in thin air, how do you display the negative space of the closed counter?

I know this is confusing, so I’ve attached two examples that showcase what I’m referring to.

Notice the line strip that connects the “P”, “0”, and “9” closed counters? Example from SteelandOakLLCShop on Etsy. In the second example, the La Proa sign was cleverly designed to account for attaching closed connecters.

Most sign-makers opt for a thin connecter that holds the closed counter negative space in place. But an even easier solution is to stylistically fill in that hole. It creates a graphic effect that’s so novel, it’s used in other applications where it isn’t necessary. Enter: Insecure.

The show Insecure by Issa Rae is incredible. I won’t go into the character development, script, acting, fashion, or interior design (which are ALL cutting edge). It’s the graphic design that’s most recently caught my attention. Here are different screengrabs from the series that showcase typography with filled-in closed counters.

I’m unsure if this is a worldwide trend or more specific to just this show, or HBO, but it almost certainly evolved from the sign-maker solution of filling in closed counters. Here are other recent examples of filled-in closed counters that have caught my attention. Enjoy!

From left to right: Insecure Season 5, Episode 3; Insecure Season 5, Episode 5; Love Life Season 2 Episode 6; Art of Play Off the Wall Cards sold here []; Saari Chocolate packaging design by Renan Vizzotto

The Big, Bold, and Simple

When thinking about my year-end blog, I knew I wanted to write about the past year’s biggest trends in packaging design. But one trend stood out far and above the rest, so it feels more intuitive to focus on just the one.

This trend came about as a response to ecommerce, which is why I don’t see it exiting any time soon. And now with COVID, people are shopping online even more so than before, making this trend a lasting one, at least for the time being.

What I’m referring to is big, bold, and simple design.

Works by Stamp – World Brand Design Society, Alessandro Laezza, and Unknown

Think about it – when you’re scrolling Amazon (or your favorite retailer) on your phone, you’re looking at images that are about 1”x1”. At that size, you’re not going to see small details and romance copy. And with how cluttered our world already feels in terms of advertising, clear and concise rule.

But what does this mean for designers? Does this make packaging designers more obsolete, since design is getting simpler?

Quite the contrary, in my opinion. Just because packaging design is simpler, that doesn’t mean that designing it is. In fact, simple design can sometimes be more difficult. That’s because each element needs to be cleverly chosen, and with less elements telling the story of the brand, you have to choose those elements even more wisely.

I’m going to end with a few more designs that exemplify the big, bold, and simple design phenomenon. I look forward to seeing more of this trend in 2022!

Works by Edgar Bak, Studio Amber, and Snask
Cover work done by OTRO Design

Grids Galore!

This geometric graphic trend hasn’t been this popular since Harry met Sally (literally). Grid backgrounds are EVERYWHERE right now – websites, packaging design, you name it. I even use a grid in the new branding I created last November. In my opinion, this checkered renaissance was left in the wake of the aftermath of an 80’s design style’s recent revival. What is this style, you ask? 80’s babies – think: Saved by the Bell. The goofy colors and geometric shapes from our favorite 90’s classic teen show actually have a name – it’s called Memphis Style.

Saved By The Bell hangout “The Max”; Memphis Style Interiors; Memphis Style Pattern; Memphis Style Chair

The Memphis Group was an Italian architecture firm, famous for its postmodern furniture, carpets, lighting, and the like. The Milan-based group formed in 1980 as a conscious objection to modernism. Their style was clearly influenced by terrazzo (which I explain in a previous blog post), with similarities of haphazard shapes. But while terrazzo was more indicative of the imperfections of nature, Memphis Style was its bizarre, ephemeral cousin; born of asymmetrical triangles, circles, and bold primary colors. Not everyone was a raving fan.

According to Brand Strategist, Bertrand Pellegrin, Memphis Style can be best described as “a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price.” Another trend researcher describes its colors as “Sesame Street”. And Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

Pee Wee’s Playhouse

The Memphis Group disbanded in 1987, but they clearly left their mark. Saved by the Bell is my favorite example of Memphis Style in action; Pee-wee’s playhouse is another example. I’m unsure how the grid initially played into Memphis Style, but you can see it in almost every example I’ve posted – in the windows of The Max, as tilework beneath the kooky furniture, and in the background of the Memphis graphics. It makes sense; a checkered background provides some grounding And while the various, colorful shapes pair really nicely with the lightly screened grid background, both are strong enough to stand on their own. Here are a few modern examples of a grid background in action. Enjoy!

Grids in packaging design, photography, and bathroom tile



I don’t remember the approximate date, where I was, or what website I was on when I first heard of “terrazzo”. It’s not like the “where were you when you first heard of yoga pants” question. (Answer: At my cousin Leslie’s Vegas bachelorette party, circa 2010.) But if I had to guess, terrazzo first crept into my vocabulary about 18 months ago, and I was probably on a website like CB2. They were PROBABLY selling something like terrazzo coasters. And I was like, sweet! A pattern I’ve never heard of.

Planter from CB2 (Above), Wallpaper from West Elm, Shirt from Madewell

The origin of terrazzo is Italian –  it started as a cementitious floor and wall treatment. Tiny chips of color (such as marble, quartz, granite, and glass) were mixed with a binder, and then poured into a precast either on a floor or wall. Now, the word “terrazzo” often refers to the pattern, and not the cementitious floor and wall treatment. Little did I know, that pattern would slowly creep into every aspect of my design-fueled life over the next year and a half. And I relished in it.

It started slowly, with me noticing this multicolored, ununiform, chip-like pattern on interior design websites – tile, wallpaper, dishware, pillows, curtains… Then, it made its way into clothing. Finally, I began noticing it on labels. But on labels, it has taken on the form of a more curvy, macro cousin, that I like to call “the blobbies”.

Dram CBD Water, Mabel & Joy Packaging, Bana Coffee Packaging, Wiley Body Packaging

I like the blobbies, actually. When I was younger, daydreaming about the future, I only had shows like Zenon: Girl of the 21stCentury, to tell me what it would look like. I’ve always pictured dramatic, hard lines. Example: people cutting their bangs on a diagonal and wearing their hair in such a tight ponytail that it gives you perma-headache. There was also lots of red pleather (thanks, Britney) and shiny silver metallic. Who would have ever guessed it’d be full of inviting, soft colored, organically shaped blobbies instead?

Like an alien invasion, the blobbies have also taken over jewelry!

Earrings from Four Eyes Ceramics

When it comes to this latest design trend, I’ve definitely asked myself “why now”? This is all speculation, but I think it has something to do with what I mentioned before. For a lot of us 30-somethings and older, we’re finally living in “the future”, and these patterns remind us that the future isn’t as scary-looking as we once thought. When it comes to terrazzo, (which characteristics are more hard edges and chip-like than the blobbies), I think we needed this unorganized, chaotic pattern to remind us that if our lives are just that – unorganized and chaotic, they are also still beautiful.

(Is anyone else having a Saved By The Bell flashback?)