How Symmetry on packaging influences aesthetic evaluation and purchase decisions

by Alex Cosper on May 04, 2022

Symmetry is an essential topic for package designers. Text and images must be balanced in a way that looks professional and makes sense to the target consumer. Without symmetry as a design fundamental, the packaging would look awkward or sloppy and text might be hard to read. Here's a look at how symmetry in packaging affects consumer perceptions and purchasing decisions.

Perception of Visual Geometry

The human eye is naturally attracted to symmetry, which is a complex visual configuration of geometry. The term "isometric" refers to the equal geometric distance in the plane relating to a mirror image. The reason it's a complex topic is because there are various types of symmetry, which include the following:

  • Translational symmetry - reflects the exact translation of a figure based on a vector that reveals length, direction and orientation of movement.
  • Rotational symmetry - is a geometric plane transformation that varies the degree position of the figure from a fixed point of rotation.
  • Mirror symmetry - displays visual regularity in which each half of an image is a mirror image of the other.

Most people identify with mirror symmetry as the most important and obvious type of symmetry. At the same time, the human visual system picks up on all types of symmetry. Non-human primates have similar perceptions.

How Visual Information is Structured

Time and space can be conveyed with visual information structured in a certain way to depict motion. The study of perceptual organization goes back to the late nineteenth century. Early research led to an understanding of how symmetry influences figure-ground perception. By the 1970s the exploration of cognitive psychology led to an explosion of symmetry studies.

Scientists are still learning about how the structuring of time and space elements influences what observers experience. As an object moves from point A to B, it generates mathematical data. When this data is expressed visually, it has geometric properties. A "bell-shaped curve" found on countless graphs and charts displays mirror symmetry.

Symmetry in Retail

Retail outlets typically display plenty of symmetry everywhere the customer turns. Shelving layouts and product displays are often arranged in ways that characterize some form of symmetry. Parallel shelves alone generate geometric perceptions. Supermarkets and other stores widely use the grid system in which space is divided into equal square areas. A package is a microcosm of this concept, as it allows for a certain number of information units to inform the customer.

Some retailers deliberately use asymmetrical displays, which make them stand out in a world saturated with balanced visuals. Asymmetrical store layouts raise curiosity in the mind as something outside the norm. But asymmetrical packaging typically doesn't work.

Packaging Symmetry Effects

The impact of packaging symmetry on consumer perceptions should be an essential concern among brands. Generally, almost all commercial packaging is designed with symmetry in mind. But not all packaging designers may be aware that people evaluate packaging based on the design's simplicity or complexity.

So where can a brand find an edge by analyzing how consumers respond to symmetry? It starts with understanding the process in which consumers perceive symmetry, which can trigger purchases. Once exposed to a symmetrical design, a person's perceived complexity affects perceptual fluency as the individual evaluates the aesthetics of the package then makes a purchasing decision.

Study results point to consumers having greater perceptual fluency - or ability to decipher a message - for text on packaging with symmetrically-arranged information than asymmetrically-arranged information. Furthermore, consumers have more positive perceptual fluency in response to simple rather than complex arrangement of symmetrical text.

Implications for Packaging Designers

Understanding why a consumer makes purchasing decisions relating to aesthetic evaluation of packaging is important for designers to consider. The manner in which vertical symmetry affects the disposition of information plays a subtle role in aesthetic evaluation of packaging. Since aesthetic evaluation and purchasing intent are linked more  by perception of vertical symmetry but not so much by asymmetry, it's advantageous for designers to look deeper into this relationship.

The key to vertical symmetry influencing purchasing decisions is that it reduces complexity in visual perception and evaluation. Vertical symmetry allows for redundancy of information items displayed on both sides of the symmetry axis. This display creates a feeling of ease in the cognitive process. The balance between the left and right side of the package makes it easier for consumers to perceive and absorb the content.

While retailers control product placement in a store, manufacturers and package designers control marketing decisions and design. Ultimately, the layout of information on the packaging is a crucial area that can sway consumer purchases. It's the last line of defense to win the attention of shoppers, provided the information is easily understood on the front of the packaging.

Less content on a package contributes to its simplicity. But designers must weigh the importance of product details in a way that presents just enough valuable information without overcrowding the package with information overload. Once the package begins to look cluttered with text, it's perceived as complex, which can reduce the chances of sales based on in-store purchasing decisions.

Designers should not conclude consumers just want simple packaging, because many want deeper details on ingredients for food products. Consumers value such details as demonstrating brand transparency. A more valid conclusion is that the front of the package should be simple and symmetrical, whereas other parts of the package can be more detailed with relevant and comprehensive product information. 

Conclusion

Product manufacturers and packaging designers should be mindful of how the vertical layout of text on the front of packaging influences in-store purchasing decisions. The text and imagery should be well balanced to create a symmetrical appearance, which makes text easier to read. The more complex the package looks, the less aesthetic value it has for consumers in general.

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Topics: Metal Packaging, Fancy Tins, Design & Emotions, Perceptual Fluency, Consumer Perception & Purchase Decisions

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