The Role of Emotions in Product Evaluation and its Impact on Packaging

by Alex Cosper on May 09, 2022

Discrete emotions and global feelings are two categories that shape people's responses to the world around them. Discrete emotions are basic, such as happiness and sadness. Global feelings relate to the dimensions of pleasure, which is associated with satisfaction, and arousal, which is a higher level of excitement.

Emotions for Hedonic vs. Utilitarian Products

When evaluating emotional appeal of consumer products, items can be divided into two categories: hedonic and utilitarian. While hedonic products incite pleasure and arousal, utilitarian products have a more subdued emotional tone. Examples of hedonic products include candy, video games and luxury items while utilitarian products include thermometers, tool kits and vacuum cleaners.

Some products overlap hedonic and utilitarian boundaries, such as a luxury car, which might be fancy, but it still has utility as a means of transportation. Consumers make their own evaluations of how exciting or useful a product is and much of it is based on how the product is presented to them. That's where packaging design comes in, as it can sway an individual's emotion in one direction or the other.

A product can be tested as both hedonic and utilitarian in separate experiments to see which mode works best for marketing. Either way, hedonic or utilitarian qualities create perceptions in the minds of consumers, from advertising, packaging, and experience with the product.

How Researchers Measure Emotions

Researchers measure psychological signals from cardiac activity, respiratory activity and self-scoring experiments, such as rating one's own emotional response to stimuli from 1 to 5. Each one of these methods has its limitations, which raises the issue that multiple studies must be conducted to get an accurate gauge on consumer responses. Even the self-scoring method can be distorted by factors such as the overall feeling about the experiment itself.

Modern machines exist that can generate data on human emotional responses, but in order to be meaningful it must be consistent in repeated studies. There's still an issue that makes these tests difficult to evaluate, which is that human emotions aren't programmed like algorithms. People don't always have predictable emotions or the same emotional response to the same stimuli on separate occasions.

The challenge for packaging designers is to use data objectively while crafting a package artistically. Emotional data is subject to deeper interpretation than just what a machine such as an EEG device generates. In some cases people may have enormous excitement for a utilitarian product but don't show it visually. They may have all kinds of imaginative ideas on how to use certain utilitarian tools but don't get a faster heartbeat over it.

Packaging designers must stay close to consumer research, especially on the psychology of consumer behavior. At the same time they can drown in it and be too absorbed by studies that have limits and flaws.

So to balance the creative process, it's advantageous for designers to operate between the modes of pleasure and intellect. Mixing business with pleasure is the appropriate approach to packaging design for hedonic products. For utilitarian products, the packaging can convey fun emotions, but the emphasis needs to be on utility.

What Packaging Designers Should Focus on About Emotions

Consumer emotions are what drive product sales and there's no doubt that packaging must correspond with the right emotions for any given product. Be aware that an individual can have different emotions about the same item, depending on how or when it's used.

Research points to consumers resonating with packaging that confirms their expectations about a product's emotional value. They are more likely to buy a tool in a serious container than one that looks like some kind of toy for kids. Conversely, parents looking to buy fun products for their kids will be more swayed by packages that communicate hedonic qualities.

The variables available for designers to create the right package include materials, texture, size, shape, color, weight, brightness or lightness and text. Emotions can be communicated through each of these variables.


Hedonic products generally should be packaged with fun elements while utilitarian products should reflect more cerebral elements. Emotional response to a package is crucial for consumers to arrive at purchasing decisions. Be aware of how the product is perceived by consumers as either playful, useful or both.


References and Further Reading

[ 1 ] Consumers Emotional Responses to Functional and Hedonic Products: A Neuroscience Research (2020), by Debora Bettiga,Anna M. Bianchi, Lucio Lamberti and Giuliano Noci. Published in Frontiers in Psychology

[ 2 ] Perceptual Fluency, Preference and Evolution (2006), by Rolf Reber and Norbert Schwarz 

[ 3 ] Three minutes to change preferences: perceptual fluency and response inhibition (2020), by Bryony McKean, Jonathan C. Flavell, Harriet Over and Steven P. Tipper

[ 4 ] Inside Consumption: Consumer Motives, Goals, and Desires (2004), by  Khan, U., Dhar, R., and Wertenbroch, K. ; Abingdon: Routledge, 144–165 

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

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