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Perception of salient content is affected by the visual design of a food package, according to a 2016 Kiel University study. It turns out the main design elements of typeface and color play a large role in shaping "healthiness perceptions" and "weight perceptions." Here are important points to know about how designers can communicate with consumers with design cues associated with perceptions.

Perceptions of Healthiness and Heaviness 

Many researchers have linked the obesity epidemic to more effective packaging of food products, which has led to increased consumer spending on food. Studies show consumers assign food into "healthy" and "unhealthy" categories partly based on food packaging. Package elements such as nutrition labels and the typeface weights can influence a consumer's evaluation of the product's healthiness and heaviness. 

It's important to understand that the perceptions of health associations with typefaces are mostly significant with individuals who put a high focus on health promotion. That means that people who pursue good health will most likely be affected by design cues such as typeface. Another essential point to keep in mind is that changing just one design element can alter perceptions in the minds of consumers.

How Typeface Influences Consumers

The typeface weight as a design cue may trigger an association between sugary foods and healthiness, according to the study. Heavier typefaces, however, weaken this association. Typeface can further influence consumers in subtle ways beyond semantics. While conveying literal meaning of written words, typefaces also convey implicit meaning and evoke symbolic associations. Certain typefaces can evoke perceptions of luxury while others may reflect dynamism or potency.

Just as one would expect, a thin typeface conveys lightweight while bold typeface conveys heavyweight. In regular colloquial speech people tend to use heavy associations like "filling" and "fatty" with unhealthy foods. If a food container looks hefty it can influence the consumer's perception of the food being heavy or unhealthy.

Typefaces were evaluated for weight associations in the Kiel study, which found heaviness was associated with the typefaces Bandstand, Fisherman, MiddleAges, NewYorkDeco and SunSplash. Low weight associations were made with AncientScript, Enviro, Informal Roman, Pepita MT and Scheherezade typefaces. Results showed that participants perceived lighter typefaces to be more attractive. Another crucial finding in the research about typefaces is that it can influence the recall of advertising claims. 

Color as a Design Cue 

One of the main ways that color affects a brand is that consumers make connections between colors and brands. Colors serve as vehicles for enhancing and confirming what the visions of food brands are about in terms of origin, function and taste. Ultimately, the color of products can reinforce perceptions for feelings such as warmth and arousal. Color can also affect perceptions of sugar and calorie content. 

Some colors are more reliable than others at affecting responses in consumer behavior. Red and blue often work as heavy colors, whereas orange and yellow help create the perception of lighter weight. Lighter colors can convey less of a health risk, which was a strategy used by tobacco companies once it became clear their products were extremely dangerous.

Part of the Kiel study involved 82 German university students rating the colors red, green, blue and yellow for perceived heaviness. Colors were defined by the hue code (red=0, green=85, blue=170 and yellow=42). Red was perceived as significantly heavier than yellow.

This research relied on heuristics, which are simple strategies for forming judgements. This method serves as an alternative to elaborative cognitive processing. Deeper research needs to be conducted on how certain colors are associated with certain flavors. Red, for example, is associated with sweetness.


Design features are able to convey symbolic meaning through typeface and colors on packaging. More studies need to be done on the link between design cues and consumer judgement of product packages, but some studies show clear associations.

This information can be used by designers to improve communication between the brand and consumers.


References and Further Reading

Topics: Metal Packaging, Packaging Design, Health