One of the key elements in packaging design is to recognize and incorporate specific design elements that will draw a consumer's attention subconsciously prior to making a purchase decision.
A consumer's eye is capable of providing valuable information about how a package design is perceived on a store shelf versus its competitors. Traditional approaches such as focus groups and interviews are tools that have been successful in deciphering such perceptions. However, these methods may not necessarily provide the truest form of insight about those packaging design elements that specifically captured their attention.
The recent 18th IAPRI World Packaging Conference—a collaboration between the Intl. Assn. of Packaging Research Institutes (IAPRI) and the Packaging Program at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, CA—saw the focus area of "Packaging Design, Printing & Graphics" garner the interest of numerous research scientists amongst the 93 presentations from industry and academia on the 11 topic areas covered.
Several notable presentations were delivered during the conference in this area and different tools were demonstrated to better understand a consumer's perception of a packaging design.
Mariana Gelici-Zeko from University of Twente in The Netherlands discussed the influence of packaging design on consumer perceptions of dairy products using categorizing and perpetual mapping.
The key difference between the two mapping techniques is that predefined criteria are used for categorizing mapping whereas perpetual mapping uses consumer criteria to study the influence of packaging design. She demonstrated that the perpetual mapping technique provides more subconscious perceptions than the categorizing task. Her finding indicates that the results of perpetual mapping provide a better understanding to the packaging designers in developing product packages that can be used to better align with a consumer's perception.
Another tool that has drawn substantial interest in the consumer behavior research community is the eye-tracking system. Laura Bix from Michigan State University's School of Packaging discussed the effect of color contrast on consumer's attentive behavior and perception of fresh produce. She measured the attentive behavior of a subject by tracking the subject's eye movement using Applied Science Laboratories' 504 eye tracking system, while viewing produce though a mesh bag.
The intent of this study was to discern if there was any effect on the perceived quality, visual perception and purchase intent for the same produce being viewed through four different colored mesh bags. It was discovered that, for all six types of produce considered for the study, the subjects were provoked to perceive higher quality and more visually appealing when they were packaged in the same or analogous colored mesh bag compared to complementary or complementary analogous mesh bag. This indicated that the subjects were more likely to buy produce when packaged in the same color or analogous mesh bag. The study suggests that simultaneous color contrast can have substantial influence on a consumer's attentive behavior and their perception of quality, visual appeal and purchase intent.
Similarly, Rupert Hurley from Clemson University used the eye tracking system to ascertain whether there was an effect on consumer attention and purchase decision on the amount of physical product visible from the principal display panel of a package of cooking utensils (fork, spatula and tongs). The test packages were situated on the shelves of the fully immersive simulated shopping environment, CUshop. The study indicated that the consumers purchased packages that physically revealed more product than their counterparts. Even though only cooking utensils were used to test this hypothesis, Hurley believes it will remain valid in future studies conducted with different packaged products.
These are some of the tools a package designer can use to understand a consumer's subconscious perception through perpetual mapping and select the appropriate color contrast or product visibility to influence the attentive behavior of consumers and their perception of a packaged product.