Introduction to Maximalism
There is a standing joke among advertisers- “If the branding is good but the product is bad, it will eventually fail. If the product is good but the branding is bad, it will fail immediately!” After all, product packaging is a sort of “emotion gateway”, creating visual and tactile stimuli that make consumers develop attitudes towards the product before it is even unveiled. Brands know this, and go to great lengths to ensure packaging is consistent with the overall brand message. They also work hard to keep their visual looks fresh and contemporary, often by creating new designs based on emerging visual trends in popular media, pop culture or the Art Scene.
One of the most distinctive of these art world-inspired packaging design styles is Maximalism, which arose in the late 1970s as a counterweight to the Minimalist movement. Where Minimalism eliminates as much detail as possible to focus on the subject, Maximalism emphasizes celebration of opulence, and layered complexity. If minimalism is monastic serenity, then Maximalism is the pomp and show of a garden in full bloom at the height of spring.
The celebration of excess in Maximalism is not to be interpreted as chaos- quite the contrary. Maximalism in art achieves order through careful selection of collections, one-off objects, and repeating patterns in graphical detail and bold, saturated color.
Maximalism in Packaging
Visual design of packaging is still very much a marketing activity. After all, packaging (except in a very few cases) isn’t about artistic expression; it is a calculated design choice to appeal to the modern consumer. Visual attractiveness notwithstanding, the packaging still needs to get the basics right- the brand’s message should not be lost, important communication features like transparent windows and nutrition information should be easily accessible, and the product should still be the hero. That means the visual opulence of the design should be carefully calibrated so it raises the consumer’s anticipation just high enough that the product experience is the ultimate high, the crescendo that delights the consumer. Here are a few tips to get it right:
1) Choose a Maximalist design scheme with a repeating theme, like Celtic runes, Indian temple art, Mayan wheels etc. to frame or emphasize the package, combining it with the right color tones (rich, mysterious colors), and interesting texture effects. However, leave enough negative space to let the eye rest and the text to stand out.
2) Pair designs with the right surface. On-package designs are great at attracting attention in the store, but packaging gets discarded relatively quickly. On the other hand, on-container designs will remain visible for a longer time (or at least till the product is finished), but won’t be visible inside the store. So choose the design schemes carefully with a clear purpose- do you want to attract attention, or build a relationship? Use techniques like shrink-sleeving to maximize your design area for bottles.
3) Remember that Minimalism has influenced packaging for a long time, for both design and economic reasons (designs with fewer elements cost less to make!). Therefore new styles like Maximalism need compelling reasons to be accepted. For instance, one theory suggests that rich styles like Maximalism create “rich” feels which are especially successful in tough economic scenarios as people seek affordable luxury experiences . If that is true, watch out for more Maximalist designs in 2020!
4) Finally, harmonize your design with the overall modern aesthetic in mind. In a previous article on “The Top Photography Trends to Expect in 2020” we mentioned that environmentalism, sustainability and diversity will be important themes in 2020. Using a Maximalist approach that uses natural color palettes, environment friendly materials and rich art that celebrates diversity will make a design relevant to the modern consumer.
Get it right with balance
Maximalist designs need careful curation of the many patterns and elements to be done right, much like a composer designs a symphony. And just like a good piece of music, an attractive packaging design evokes interest in the consumer by achieving balance and applying context in the design.
Apply context to the design by using themes, colors and textures that reinforce the brand. For example, Ample Hills Creamery, an ice cream brand known for its good quality and quirky flavors like “Ooey Gooey Butter Cake” reinforces its local, middle-class, home-spun roots (Ample Hills is from Brooklyn, a middle class residential neighbourhood in New York City) by using crayon art and a bright red color scheme from its lids to its font, reminiscent of childhood and simple pleasures.
Figure 1: Ample Hills Creamery incorporates Maximalism in its branding by using carefully layered heterogenous elements like color, font and crayon art to evoke feelings of childhood and kinship.
Ample Hills extended their Maximalist approach by changing their container shape from round to square, not only to attract attention, but in the words of co-founder Brian Smith, “to better tell an illustrated story through time- kind of like an illustrated children’s book or comic strip.” The rich, classic, premium ice-cream goes perfectly with nostalgia, the playful, bright red font and the comic strips- just a lovely bit of self-indulgence, like a lazy Sunday morning!
Figure 2: Ample Hills Creamery changed their pint containers to square, attracting attention and improving connections by adorning the panels with illustrations.
A great use of Maximalism art in packaging is to infuse energy and blast the senses with distinctive designs that stay in the mind for a long, long time. Look at these can and label designs commissioned by Indeed Brewing, and Jack Jeckel’s Pepper Sauce respectively. The former, a craft beer’s design is all about vivid color, motion, and sparkle, while the latter’s design, a throwback to psychedelic, hippie music of the 60s and 70s leaves a distinct memory of a “cloud of green”, vaguely reminiscent of a hot pepper sauce! Use of color and pattern can be powerful associative techniques for marketers!
Figure 3: Indeed Brewing’s art and flowing and text is about motion, mystery and layers- perfect for a craft beer.
Figure 4: Psychelic style art for hot sauce company Jak Jeckel. Thoug the design is very full, the style is immediately reminiscent of hippie rock bands like Grateful Dead, creating a contextual personality for the brand.
Other brands like Apolonia Coffee took a more reserved approach, using distinctive patterns (that originate from Mayan textiles) reminiscent of the founder’s Guatemalan heritage to enhance a traditionally brown coffee paper bag, but used the design in only a small area in a style that she feels “balances the modern with the historical”. 
Figure 5: Apolonia Coffee’s limited use of Mayan inspired art creates a relationship with the brand because it informs the consumer about the founder’s Mayan ancestry. Such interest evoking limited use of Maximalist art on packaging is a powerful storytelling technique.
By employing a number of techniques like balance, and using Maximalism in the context of environmental and diversity consciousness and use of sufficient negative space a designer can evoke interest and attract attention in a crowded marketplace. With its ability to generate interest, mystery, grandeur and wonder, we see 2020 as a year of high creativity, individualism and personality powered by Maximalism in the packaging world.
If you are just starting out with using new visual styles to do rebranding or need fast packaging design refresh ideas, consider using an expert like Manipal Digital. Whether you want to finalize your design, need help with PreMedia to prepare print ready files, or need other help like creating marketing material visualizing your product on the shelf in 3D or VR, or even need manufacturing help with substrates and textures, a packaging design expert with good printing/packaging experience can make all the difference.