Why Color is Key to Successful Packaging Design

Posted on Aug 1, 2019 by

Whether you are aware of it or not, emotions, perceptions, values, and experiences – positive or negative – all have colors associated with them, either subliminally or consciously. And yet, as much as color influences our lives, one of the great ironies is that we all see or perceive color differently. So because the role and use of color relative to communication cannot be minimized, and packaging represents one of the principal ways a product or package communicates with the consumer, effective or appropriate use of color is one of the key pillars of successful package design.

As creative teams work to define brand and packaging colors they must first define the social and cultural context of color for the markets a product is sold within. For example, a yellow-themed package can communicate optimism and warmth while at the same time connoting cowardice, caution or illness. We see yellow as life-giving sunshine and as danger in police crime scene tape. Both black and white can communicate death depending on differing cultural belief systems and they can communicate elegance and sophistication. Once a color palette is aligned with the desired subliminal and conscious brand or product messaging, your signature colors will hopefully become instantly relatable in a universally positive way. If you are committed to using a color with a questionable connotation, associate that color with an upbeat image to reinforce a positive brand expression.

As you define the packaging color, be critical of your choice and rationale for your use of it, which is not to say that a daring color choice can’t be innovative in becoming a new category leader. Not so long ago, it was commonly believed that the last color in the world that could be used for food packaging was green – and why? Because it was commonly held that green and food had a subliminal recall to spoilage. But today as you review the store shelf, look at the predominance of green used to communicate healthy, natural or organic products. Creating a customized color is especially effective in differentiating your brand and disrupting the status quo on a crowded shelf. Whichever path you take, it is wise to use color with purpose and consistency, and limit the number of colors you use in order to minimize visual agitation or confusion.

As an example, I recently took a lesson in the appropriate use of color when I was confronted by the sea of blue searching through “health and beauty” for a specific style of disposable razor. I was amazed at the number of blue tones that dominated the category, making it hard to quickly discriminate between brands and product features. Every now and then there was a pop of black or green, and although products were displayed in mostly transparent packages, the graphics were appallingly crowded with an overabundance of messaging, adding more color to the visual chaos on the packaging.

However, in stark contrast, the Flamingo packaging communicated quiet, calm, confidence and strength – it reinforced a clean look for both the package and the product, which was boldly featured in one large high contrast image, minus excess decoration and copy – a white product photographed on a white field. My first thought was of Apple packaging – that finally there was a quality razor created for shaving purposes and not simply for obsolescence and disposability. The straightforward design was echoed in the cartridge refill pack, an all-white package with five bars of foil ink or stamping, reminiscent of the five-blade shaving system. Any packaging copy was a secondary element – that although present, did nothing to compete with or intrude on the brand and product image.

The choice of color was deliberate and artful, delivering the appropriate visual cues to establish a firm image in the consumer’s mind. The use of a conventional tuck box carton provided protection for the product, stability on shelf and ultimately ease of use for the consumer. Overall this package immediately provided the visual cues to elevate this product from its competitors and generate consumer appeal.

Think carefully about defining color objectives and standards for your brand, and establish guidelines specifically for how you will achieve the color uniformly across all SKUs. By the use of a single, custom line color or through the 4-color process, each route has a different set of standards for achieving the color target. Regardless of the approach, the ultimate goal is for the eye to perceive your brand and package colors as identical in all applications. Make color one of your most important packaging tools.

To learn more about how to use color in your packaging or branding process, please contact us at info@brand-directions.com