Unconscious emotional effects of packaging design elements

by Alex Cosper on August 05, 2022

Packaging design can be understood as the final barrier that separates the product from the consumer. Studies show a consumer's emotional response to the package and its design elements plays a crucial role in their purchasing decisions. Here's what packaging designers should know about emotions associated with metal packaging that can affect purchasing decisions.

How Packaging Design Triggers Unconscious Emotional Effects

Product packaging, whether it's made of metal or other material, communicates to consumers on unconscious emotional levels. That's the verdict of several researchers over the past few decades, yet not much is discussed about this intriguing revelation in packaging design industry literature.

Designers can at least turn to a group of authors from prestigious universities in Australia and Denmark who wrote a useful summary of this psychological research in 2012. Their paper "Unconscious Emotional Effects of Packaging Design Elements" was published by Agldeas Press. The authors were:

  • Lewis Xinwei Liao of Monash University
  • Armando Maria Corsi from the University of Adelaide
  • Larry Lockshin from the University of South Australia
  • Polymeros Chrysochou of Aarthus University

These researchers studied a group of 120 participants who were given mock package design concepts of chocolate blocks. The emotional responses of the test subjects could be measured by both self-reporting and physiological analysis methods. The researchers relied on self-reporting to measure the emotional response to colors and typefaces on packaging. Emotional response to images was evaluated by both self-reporting and physiological measures.

From observing emotional responses to food packaging elements on chocolate blocks, the researchers found these images evoked both conscious and subconscious responses. Greater, but more negative arousal was induced with angry imagery, whereas happy imagery generated more favorable responses.

Emotional Effects of Color, Image, and Typeface

The three most important packaging design elements that affect a shopper's emotions are color, image, and typeface. Images often tell the deepest stories about a consumer's emotional response compared to colors and typefaces. When colors are combined with images, the response can be more intense. The typeface still matters because it plays a role in conveying important product information.

Now consider the role the material of the packaging plays. The reason why metal is such a popular packaging material is because of its protective capabilities in shutting out environmental elements that can degrade the product. Aluminum is often favored for food items due to its lightweight and easy flexibility for shaping containers.

When a consumer sees their favorite drink packaged in a bottle with a metal cap or in an aluminum can, they likely perceive the product to be safe and well-protected for the shipping process. Metal is durable and symbolizes strength to many people. Consumers have developed this understanding from many years of experience that metal containers keep food from spoiling and allow them to retain its flavor.

People generally understand that metal protects food products from extreme temperatures. It also serves as a barrier that blocks environmental gases, light, and odors. Even consumers who lack scientific knowledge have learned metal is a superior packaging material for their personal needs and tastes. So simply by seeing a metal package, consumers instantly think of protection on a subconscious level.

What Emotional Triggers Affect Purchasing?

The greatest quest for packaging design knowledge relates to why consumers make the purchasing choices they do, particularly on grocery items they didn't plan to buy. Many shoppers give in to impulsive desires when they see a new food product they want to try. At the same time, a tightening economy causes people to limit the number of items they purchase.

In between a consumer's desires and their budget is the key to how they decide to purchase new products. Their desires are abstract and unlimited while the budget is concrete with specific limits. This dynamic alone has a dramatic impact on purchasing behavior.

A major key for a new product to win over a new customer reflects what the packaging says and the emotional level of its contents. The text of any typeface delivers necessary product information, while image and color have a powerful impact on emotion.

Tapping into a person's emotions associated with certain packaging design elements can increase sales. The designer must remember, however, that each consumer has their own set of personal appearances related to emotions. At the same time, there are easy ways to convey basic emotions such as happiness and excitement. Creative imagery and color brightness both play important roles in triggering a positive emotional response.


Does the package paint a clear enough picture that matches what the shopper is looking for? When it comes to metal packaging, many positive emotions are evoked in consumers based on a life of positive memories. Drinking an ice-cold beverage from an aluminum can is an example of a positive experience that stays in people's minds and is associated closely with pleasure.


References and Further Reading

[1] Unconscious emotional effects of packaging design elements (2012), by Lewis Xinwei Liao, Armando Maria Corsi, Larry Lockshin, Polymeros Chrysochou

Topics: Metal Packaging, Design & Emotions

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