• Transform magazine
  • November 30, 2022


Designing for the Sensory Revolution: Insights from the Pentawards Spring Festival


The Pentawards was founded in 2007 to recognise excellence in global packaging design. Following its recent digital Spring Festival, its marketing manager, Jennifer Clements, talks Transform readers through new insights from the world of packaging design with the help of experts.

It’s safe to say that our five senses had a significant lack of excitement during the last couple of years of lockdown. With this in mind, we planned our recent digital Spring Festival as a refreshing antidote to this: re-exploring the relationship between our senses and packaging design, and what this means to consumers and designers today. Experts from leading agencies shared their views and insights on creating emotional experiences through packaging and the ongoing value of creating sensorial connections in today’s world. Here is a round-up of some of the key insights that we heard in the festival.

The regeneration of senses

Our sensorial experiences were restricted over the last few years, creating a widespread lack of stimulus and a cautiousness to interact with the outside world, as well as a desire to explore the world in all its sensory glory once again. In turn this posed new challenges and opportunities for brands and designers to appeal to consumers.

How can packaging design provoke emotional connections and sensations if our perceptive ability has changed or been compromised? What resources can brands and designers use to regenerate sensorial connections and produce new memories and experiences?

Laura Amaral, partner and strategy director at Brazilian design agency Bendito Design explored how the feelings of languish, isolation and emptiness during the pandemic have affected our approach to creating post-pandemic packaging experiences. She also pointed to the need for brands and designers to remember that the people we are designing for have experienced similar feelings and emotions as them during the pandemic and that this should inform the experiences they are creating for consumers. 

 “We are experiencing a redefinition,” Amaral explained. “If we were already immersed in an era ruled by doubts, uncertainties and signs of exhaustion, the events of 2020 shook once and for all our truths, our values and a whole system of consumption”.

Reflecting on what new branding and design ideas are emerging from this scenario, she discussed the agency’s report on ‘design ideas: new ethos and visual expressions’, which included the following insights:

  • New ethos of aesthetics being connected to escape and cure: Consumers are looking for aesthetics that take us away from the real pain and transfer us to a magical world, a place where we would rather be. Brands could achieve this multi-sensorial experience through:
    • Dopamine experience - packaging cues of joy, vibration, and energy… an explosion of colours, patterns and overlays.
    • Back in time/ nostalgic cues - psychedelic approach that integrates dusty and saturated colours.
    • Playful retro - a modern and playful visual strategy, which is always a little exaggerated.
  • Phygital ethos - the brand narrative of interactive worlds: a dynamic design that stimulates, allows or inspires the idea of movement, packaging that comes to life through augmented reality.

Design cues with high-impact or intense sensorial connotations, as well as the possibilities of technology like AR to heighten these experiences, will be a significant part of responding to the new sensorial reality.

The forgotten sense

Packaging design is so often focused on look and feel. However, during the Pentawards Spring Festival Evelio Mattos, Sustainable Structural Packaging Designer and Unboxd Host, revealed that the power of sound is often overlooked. Mattos’s sound-only presentation highlighted that the material differences used by packaging designs can convey prestige, quality, and value via sound.

The most common packaging, especially in consumer sectors such as fashion, is polybags (plastic bags), that have a high pitch sound. Mattos explained that high pitch sounds reflect the low cost of the material and, in turn, suggests a low value product. Low pitch and softer sounds feel more expensive and premium. It’s not always about the actual cost or value of the product, but the perceived value of the product via the packaging design.

Interestingly, whenever brands want to be more sustainable, they switch to light-weight packaging materials, but that impacts the sound. It gets higher and brands start feeling like the product and the design is no longer a reflection of their true purpose. On most occasions, they do not realise it’s because of the sound change of their packaging.

Embracing all five senses equally in the packaging design process is an under-explored area and now is the right time for brands and designers to dive in.

Tapping into the sixth sense

Spencer Buck, Founder & CCO at independent design agency Taxi Studio, reminded the audience that every experience people have with a brand - whether that’s packaging design or a digital touchpoint - needs to provoke an emotion through the senses. Brands and designers need to consider taste, texture, smell, sound as well as visual appearance, because behind every single sense is an opportunity to create a meaningful consumer experience. However, he also revealed that the future-proofed approach of creating that elusive, memorable moment with consumers is tapping into your sixth sense: intuition.

As part of this, Buck expressed how logic can sometimes work against creativity and instead spoke about the ever-increasing importance of visionary thinking for brands by tapping into intuition during the creative process. This is an inspiring provocation in a world of increasing dependence on data, algorithms, and AI. It also speaks to the unique creative brilliance and design flair that never fails to surprise us each year in the Pentawards. With the 2022 competition closed for entries, we are eager to see what sensorial delights lay in store for us as we continue to celebrate creative excellence across the global packaging design sector.