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New views in hues: Color trends and preferences in packaging

New views in hues: Color trends and preferences in packaging
A design expert sorts through a rainbow of colors to find those that represent demographic "gold" for packaging.

Packaging design expert Richard Palmer of Little Big Brands takes a closer look at leveraging the use of color in packaging and identifies where color confluence is seen and another dynamic demographic where a color collision is occurring...and points to a color trending in today’s market.

What signals are you sending with your package color? How is the science behind certain colors evolving over time? How do different colors translate different emotions among vertical market segments?

Richard Palmer, creative director for design agency Little Big Brands, will touch on these colorful questions and more next month in explaining “The Psychology of Color: Understanding the Impact of Color on Today’s Market.” The presentation is part of a 1-day Packaging Design for Health & Beauty conference June 15 in New York City during EastPack.

However, Palmer answers a few select questions on the psychology of color in packaging in this exclusive Q&A preview.

What generational differences are seen with color choices?

Palmer: If you’ve been house hunting recently, the color difference between generations is particularly apparent. Go into a 20-year-old home and you’ll find a kitchen dominated by beige, yellows and more color in general, while a brand new build will be stark white with black or grey accents. That clean, neutral palette feels like a response and relief from the hyper connected lifestyle we live today, and a big departure to the homes most of us grew up in.

Our color preferences as a society overall though are changing as our world is changing. As gender roles are being redefined, men and women are becoming more aligned on color choices. And as cultures are colliding, there is a direct influence on the colors that are becoming our new normal.

What are the color preferences between men and women?

Palmer: Biologically, men and women have different color preferences since women see color better than men, as well as how men and women are socialized. Little girls are given coloring books and crafts at a young age, and little boys are given trucks or physical toys.

For decades, even centuries, the stereotypical colors have been pink for girls and blue for boys. This still holds true particularly in personal care, however with age and maturity the personal color preference and palette evolves.

Today you often see brands—Dove is a good example—using black or dark grey for men’s products and white or lighter neutrals for women. In both cases, those base colors are complimented with a wide spectrum of colors to identify fragrances and flavors. Dark grey in this instance signifies masculinity and white a femininity that resonates with the individual sexes.

Where the gap lessens is in the grocery store. The colors associated with food products tend to be more universally accepted and the norms between sexes are much closer in alignment. There are few categories in grocery that still continue to appeal specifically to a particular sex, however. For example, energy and functional drinks still tend to use color and other cues more masculine in nature.

The color black has long been associated with “premium” positioning. Does that still hold true?

Palmer: It certainly is still dominantly used in multiple categories to cue a premium product or brand territory. Although I would argue that black is a bit overused when it comes to premium and too often the safest and quickest route for designers to take. We always encourage our team to consider each brand and unique ways that brand can be premium in a more own-able, less expected way. We also encourage folks to look beyond color to help consumers along the journey and explore materials, finishes, substrates and unique structure as arsenals in our premium toolbox.

What color is hot right now?

Palmer: There are so many variables that play into answering this question. Although I can’t really point to any specific universal color, I would say that as the natural space continues to be more and more relevant for consumers, palettes that cue more natural hues are a reoccurring theme in the studio right now. Similarly, as we consider how our cultural makeup is changing in this country, it is likely that will influence and drive a potentially more diverse and colorful palette. Other than that, I’ll bow to Pantone on this one with its prediction that 2016 is the year of “Rose Quartz and Serenity.”


Richard Palmer has been with Little Big Brands since 2014. Prior to LBB, his career started in London at Smith & Milton and later Siebert Head. In 2001, he moved to the U.S., working at Landor Associates followed by Sterling Brands for seven years. He then became senior creative director at Anthem Worldwide New York, significantly shifting the agency’s reputation by developing inspired and poignant creative. At LBB, Palmer oversees the creative department and key accounts, fostering client relationships and building a powerhouse design team.


Interested in a packaging and packaging design? Join like-minded professionals at EastPack in New York City June 14-16.


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