First established in 2016, Design Lab – a platform showcasing great design in specialty coffee – has continued to grow. Now in its fourth year, the competition celebrates the design efforts of our industry through four key platforms: coffee spaces, coffee vessels, packaging, and brand.
As the hundreds of submissions are received and carefully evaluated for originality, function, and sustainability, judges glean a unique insight into some of the biggest trends sweeping design practice in specialty coffee each year. Here are some of the trends we noticed in this year’s entries for both Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston and World of Coffee in Berlin.
The Year of Living Coral
Although much has been written about the incoming wave of “Gen Z Yellow” edging out previous years’ preference for “Millennial Pink,” it seems like we’re still sticking to the warmer end of the pastel spectrum. For the past 20 years, the Pantone Color Institute has identified a “Color of the Year” through trend analysis across a variety of sectors and platforms.
It’s not clear which came first, but the prevalent colors of this year’s entries in packaging and brand are well aligned with this year’s chosen color: PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral. “In reaction to the onslaught of digital technology and social media increasingly embedding into daily life, we are seeking authentic and immersive experiences that enable connection and intimacy,” says the Pantone Color Institute in its description of the color. It “emits the desired, familiar, and energizing aspects of color found in nature.”
Kin-Kin Coffee’s submission for “Packaging” in the 2019 World of Coffee Design Lab; the interior of the Greater Goods’ space, featuring a centrally placed coffee bar allowing guests to interact with baristas from any direction.
“Special” no longer seems to means “exclusive,” resulting in the adoption of softer, more open fonts. This also lends itself to the development of a gender-neutral identity, which resonates with 50 percent of young adults between the ages of 18–34. For entrant Hêrmann-Thômas Coffee Masters, this association was intentional: “We wanted to reflect gender equality (a less common thing in Mexico) as well as our passion for design and architecture while serving the best coffees available in Mexico.”
Other features of this design approach include warm neutrals, soft pastels, and whimsical illustrative elements.
A bold application of a delicate font is front and center on Van & Co.’s packaging entry; Rishi Tea won the category of Branding at Expo this past April; an entry in the Branding category from DONA.
Nurturing with Nature
The influence of the natural world doesn’t start and end with the color of the year: not only is coffee packaging becoming an expression of unique art-for-art’s-sake, but also the artwork in question is predominately a softer, less-realistic impression of the natural world. “We wanted to add beauty to the experience using the side panels of the bag,” noted packaging entrant Feast Coffee & Culture. “The side panels feature various illustrations, not intended to be representations of the tasting notes or type of coffee, but simply something to behold and enhance people’s daily experience.”
Mexico’s Hêrmann Thômas Coffee Masters created two fictional characters, a formal, coffee-loving moose (Mr. Hêrmann) and a passionate tea-drinking and baking rabbit (Ms. Thômas) to exemplify their business; Square One Coffee Roasters submitted various applications of their brand to print collateral, including a colorful latte art throwdown poster; Feast Coffee & Culture applies unrelated illustration on the sides of their bags to bring additional beauty to the coffee brewing experience.
 Fusion’s Massive Millennial Poll (2015) was conducted primarily with millennials living in the US.
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