Understanding the consumer impact of aesthetic packaging design

by Alex Cosper on May 08, 2017

The psychology of packaging design has become a top concern of marketers, as evidence accumulates that visual aesthetics play a major role of a product's success. Research shows that aesthetic package design leads to an increase in the time consumers spend on making decisions. In fact, the more aesthetics offered by the package, the better chance it has of being chosen over name brands that come in standardized packages, regardless of price.

Affect and Cognition of Aesthetics

Aesthetics can be defined as an appreciation for art and beauty. The term originally was coined by Baumgarten in 1735 to refer to perception from the senses. People are naturally attracted to colorful items that stand out visually. The brain's reward system is able to focus on stimuli that draws associations from favorable experiences.

Interestingly, a 2010 study by Hoegg, Alba and Dahl found that when aesthetics and product feature performance are in conflict, people tend to favor the more unattractive product. Another study by Veryzer and Hutchinson in 1998 suggested that unity and typical presentation were important triggers to aesthetic reactions among consumers. In 2004 Leder, Belke, Oeberst and Augustin developed a model of the aesthetic judgment process, identifying these five stages:

  1. perceptual analyses of an aesthetic item
  2. implication of memory integration
  3. explicit classification
  4. cognitive mastering
  5. overall evaluation

Aesthetic emotion is the result of this process. The authors believed that this judgment is the culmination of continuous satisfaction of the aesthetic element throughout the five-stage evaluation process. Various studies suggest that consumers process judgments differently between aesthetic and standardized packaging. One way to measure this type of processing is reaction time, as suggested by Sternberg in 2004.

Aesthetic Effects Measured By Reaction Time

Longer emotional reaction time for aesthetic vs. standardized packaging is a key hypothesis in market research relating to aesthetic package design. A 1993 study by Madsen, Brittin and Capperella-Sheldon confirmed this notion, observing longer response times with regard to music as an aesthetic experience. In 2004 Chatterjee proposed a model of the process that the consumer experiences once they are exposed to a visual stimulus, based on the processing of these factors that trigger emotional responses:

  • color
  • luminance
  • shape
  • motion
  • location

When these phases combine with identities, such as places or faces and the consumer's attention, the result is an emotional response followed by a judgment. Subsequent studies suggested that reward - the positive value that an individual associates with a product - is what may determine aesthetic opinions and decisions.

What Aesthetic Designers Should Consider

Understanding the consumer impact of aesthetic package designIt's fairly clear from various studies that aesthetic packages trigger longer response times than standardized packaging, which may still favor unknown brands over popular brands. Even when the aesthetic package is priced higher, this observation in studies was still true. The more time people spend fixated on a package, the more chance it will lead to a favorable judgment.

Marketers should still be cautious about changing a packaging design, since it could lead to confusion. People may not immediately recognize the brand they want if the package suddenly changes without a major awareness campaign.

Another consideration before changing a package design should be an evaluation of the overall competitive landscape. If all other competitors have caught on to aesthetic packaging, for example, it could cancel out the impact of aesthetic package design. In other words, part of the reason that certain aesthetic packages were favored in studies was that they were compared with standardized packages by participants.

Aesthetic design implies a certain uniqueness compared with generic items. If all the products on a shelf stand out as unique, new dynamics may need to be tested regarding multisensory perception. Visual appeal certainly matters, but it must also correspond with people's experiences, associations and expectations.

Attitudes toward popular brands also play a significant role in consumer decisions, as unity and familiarity may be overriding factors in some cases. It is possible, however, to outsell a popular lower-priced brand with a more aesthetic design based on sensory stimuli such as colour, luminance, shape and texture.


Studies on aesthetic package design suggest that the more aesthetic the design, the more affective processes will be engaged in consumers, resulting in increased response times. Furthermore, the more people think about a product while feeling a positive emotion, the more likely they will choose that product over a competitor. That means that package designers should explore the brain's reward system on a deeper level to help gain a competitive edge in packaging design.


The postings in this blog section do not necessarily represent Desjardin's positions, strategies or opinions.

References and Further Reading

Topics: Metal Packaging, Caviar Packaging, Pharmaceutical, Chocolates , Biscuits and Confectionery packaging, Cosmetic Packaging

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