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22 November 2019

Detectives, Dolphins and Other Christmas Surprises

Becoming chief detectives who collect trends and ideas every time we hit the high street is second nature for the creative team across the Equator Design global network. We live and breathe packaging design so every shopping trip is also a potential research exercise.

At Christmas, when the shopping experience is at its richest and most exciting for all consumers, there’s even more scope to delve into a world of trends and influences that can help us develop new concepts, tapping into tastes, topical ideas and the mood of current thinking.

Each autumn, we send some of our Senior Creatives team from the Manchester studio on a Christmas retail research mission to London and into Manchester. They seek out the emerging trends that will influence seasonal designs for the following year.

Their mission is simple: identify the narratives, themes, colours and textures being used by the high end stores and brands and distil them down into a selection of future trends and predictions for next Christmas and beyond. All of those insights are collected and curated to create a Christmas Trends Report that can be shared across the Equator Design network as a source of intelligence and inspiration for next year’s seasonal briefs.

Planning for the Christmas Trends Report trip starts long before Martin and Dawn catch the train. They start by pouring over research reports from Christmas world, the international Christmas decorations expo in Frankfurt, trawling Pinterest and cherry-picking influences from areas as diverse as fashion shows, film and design. They look at both the past year and the year ahead, as well as collaborating with our other global teams to understand are the other changing dynamics. This desktop and collaborative research means they can begin their mission ready with territories to explore.

Armed with cameras, heads full of ideas and comfy shoes at the ready, the team head out with a planned route of London stores and streets to visit to capture a sense of what the city has to offer for Christmas. Their itinerary takes in the city’s premium stores – including Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols – along with independent stores and boutique brands, plus iconic locations, such as Carnaby Street and Covent Garden. Their remit isn’t restricted to the food halls either; the pair also take in window displays, fashion and homeware and, of course, Christmas departments.

This year’s trip took place at the end of October when shops were already full of their Christmas gifts, produce and displays and a collection of clear narratives emerged linked to film and TV events, topical issues and creative themes.

For example, last year’s rock ‘n’ roll theme for Carnaby Street’s decorations, inspired by blockbuster biopics of Freddie Mercury and Elton John, had made way for an ecological theme. The centre of London’s trendiest fashion stores was festooned with dolphins, crabs and other sea creatures. It was a creative take on the season, that echoes public consciousness of the need to protect our oceans and references the latest must-see David Attenborough series currently being broadcast on British TV. It was also an indication that we need to look beyond the traditional trappings of Christmas to identify themes that will hook into consumers’ imaginations and create a point of difference in festive design projects.

From the traditional packs adorning the shelves of Fortnum & Mason, through to the innovative windows of Selfridges and the pops of brights and stylised shapes of The Conran Shop, it was a packed and productive trip. The team returned home buzzing with ideas and laden with images, but the hard work wasn’t over quite yet. They then sorted these into themes and trend narratives, identifying eight key retail stories for future Christmas’. These predictions will form the basis for Client work across our studio network, helping our teams give their customers a competitive advantage on pack.


“We build flexibility into the report so that it can be adapted for different sectors and retailers. Not all colour palettes or motifs will work for all and we’re never a slave to trends when designing for clients. The trip is invaluable to get a sense of what the prevailing mood is – is that year going to be about sentimentality, optimism, magic, innovation or simplicity? It’s exciting to witness the retailers competing and re-inventing in what could be a tired ‘tried and tested’ season and pushing the boundaries of what can be classed as Christmas-y!”  says Dawn Wormald, Creative Director Photography.


“It is also satisfying to see last year’s predictions bear fruit.” Those 2019 trends that featured include ‘Sweet Traditions’, which has seen everything from gingerbread decorations to ginger colour tones in evidence on this year’s high street. Similarly, the ‘Extra Celestial’ mood board identified in last year’s report can be seen in space themed decorations and confectionary this year.


Of course, across the Equator Design Network, there’s a whole host of local influences that will be factored into new design briefs for 2020, but London provides a benchmark for the Christmas experience recognised around the world. Nowhere is the festive season more richly celebrated in store or more competitively driven by retailers. In London, the stores that create the most inspirational Christmas experience win the prize of the most profitable festive season. The aim of our Christmas Trends Report is to help our clients benefit from that experience.