Packaging design can make a huge difference in how consumers perceive products. It also plays a significant role in shaping purchasing decisions. Does the package communicate what the target consumer expects? That's the question designers must face. Here's a look at how research backs the theory that colors and other design features on packaging affect buying behavior.
Expectation, Perception, and Taste
When a consumer evaluates a food product they pool senses together to absorb as much information from the packaging as possible, perhaps on a subconscious level. This process is known as multi-sensory perception. If the consumer is already familiar with the product, they will have developed an expectation to go with it. But even if it's a new food item, they might have formed preconceived notions about the product from marketing or the package itself.
The consumer's peceptions of the packaging design can be formed by experiences and associations with other products. Associations can be triggered by the mood generated from the package colors and other design elements, communicating vibrant or more subdued energy. Consumers commonly associate bright colors with attractiveness and soft colors with healthiness.
Consumer taste studies have shown that individuals tend to respond to these packaging cues until they eat the food and then their sense of taste takes over. Researchers have further learned that these packaging cues become less important to individual product evaluations through repetition as time goes on.
Color Associations with Healthiness and Attractiveness
While each individual develops their own unique associations with colors - such as emotions and values - certain generalizations can be made for marketing purposes. It may not be true for every consumer, but those who think of attractiveness when they see brightness are likely to buy food products regardless of nutritional value.
A more health-conscious consumer, however, will often spend more time reading the label than paying attention to the color. At the same time many consumers have been conditioned through packaging to make predictable color associations. Even health-oriented consumers may associate soft colors such as light green with healthiness.
Softer colors work for organic and natural food products or those that convey the importance of nutritional value. Using softer colors translates into turning down the hype to many consumers who have learned to focus on their own needs rather than give in to market influences. The concept of health food often relates with nature, pointing to food that comes directly from the earth. Interestingly, gardens and other natural settings span the spectrum of colors and brightness.
Keeping these fundamentals in mind, the package designer must still evaluate information about the specific product in which they have been commissioned to create. In some cases, a health food product might be aimed at a vibrant segment of the population, such as energy drinks for people who work out at a gym. The designer must focus on what's appropriate for the project at hand rather than to apply a rigid design philosophy across all projects.
Conveying healthiness or attractiveness still comes down to other design elements besides colors. Once the taste of the food product becomes familiar to a group of loyal consumers, the artist can take more liberties with colors in crafting new designs that create fresh impressions.
[ 1 ] Colouring perception : emphasising attractiveness through packaging (January 2018), by Irene Tijssen
[ 2 ] Healthy by design, but only when in focus: Communicating non-verbal health cues through symbolic meaning in packaging (2016), by Nadine Karnal, Casparus J.A.Machiels, Ulrich R. Orth and RobertMai