Taking Advantage Of Psychology With Product Packaging
What makes a product stand out? When your product is lined up on a shelf with your direct competitors side by side, what makes a customer choose yours over the others?
Some of it is brand loyalty. Some of it is ingredients, or composition or manufacturing practices and ethical sources.
Most of it actually comes down to psychology. A customer who has never heard of or seen or tried any of the products will pick one of them, and the way you attract them to your product is through packaging.
Using psychology in packaging and product design isn't limited to big-name companies. Apple doesn't have some exclusivity agreement with the color white, after all. Your products need packaging, and differences in design have a tangible impact on how your customers perceive the products inside.
Choosing The Right Colors
First and foremost, one of the most immediately noticeable elements of product packaging is color. A lot goes into color choices.
You've probably heard of the psychology of color: how colors have emotional resonance and how that resonance can change from culture to culture. For example, many of our products have greens and pinks as the primary colors, which signify health, natural sources and energy. Other companies have their own color-based brand identities, from the iconic blue-and-orange of Kraft Mac and Cheese to the clean white of Apple's electronics.
While choosing the right colors for emotional resonance is important, you also have to consider other factors. How does the color of your products reinforce your brand identity? Does your choice of color allow you to stand out from your competition? Does your packaging design work for the colorblind? And the color is just one facet of packaging design.
Analyzing Shape, Structure And Form Factor
Have you ever noticed that toys for children, particularly the more gendered toys, have different general shapes? Toys for boys are often sleek and sharp with bold facets or intricate construction — for example, toy cars and planes, play tools and action figures. Toys for girls tend to be softer with rounded edges, bubbly construction and the inclusion of hair, fur or cloth much more frequently.
Product packaging for adults has a similar degree of stratified construction, though it's more subtle. Slim, narrow products tend to evoke thoughts of health. Squat, narrow products are viewed as sturdy and bold. Even very complex shapes have their own associated emotions and can be made into another element of branding. Just look at the evolution of the Coke bottle.
What's more, this element of design changes over time. It wasn't all that long ago that technology of the future was bold, blocky and angular. Now, it's all sleek, rounded corners and minimized gaps. Cultural shifts push design to adapt and update, and older designs turn outdated and then retro before the cycles come back around.
Picking Packaging Materials
Even the materials your packages are made out of have an impact. In fact, they have an impact in three different ways:
First, you have your presentation. A high-end luxury product is never going to be packaged in plain corrugated cardboard unless "thrifty-chic" is part of the brand aesthetic. Cardboard packaging is used to promote the impression of inexpensive, workman-like, function-over-form packaging. It says: "It's the product that counts, not the box." For a more high-quality impression, you'll see products packaged in plastic, metal or wooden containers instead.
Second, you have texture. Packages aren't just there to contain a product. They exist to be touched, to be handled. For some products, the package is handled more than the product itself. The texture of the material needs to feel good to handle, whether that means it's smooth, rough, easy to hold or simply weighty. Each quality can be good or bad depending on the context of the product.
Third, you have complexity. A product with packaging meant to be opened and discarded should be simple to minimize waste and the impression of wastefulness. A product meant to be used as a long-term container should be solid and well-constructed. A complexity that doesn't line up with the intended use of the product feels disconcerting or incorrect.
Branding And Purpose Through Typography
Even the simple choice of the font you use for the text on your package has an impact. Imagine if all of your groceries were designed with text in Comic Sans. Imagine if everything was one of the simple Times New Roman, Arial or Impact fonts. It just doesn't feel right.
A huge amount of work goes into the design of company fonts, from the swoops and swirls of Coca-Cola to the sleek-yet-rounded elegance of Versace. The psychology behind font design and choice plays a huge part in the subtle psychology of product and package design.
Packaging design is a core element of your branding, and it's what sets you apart from your competition on the shelf. It pays to know your audience and their perceptions and match your design to their psychology.
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