First, everyone must realize that you do not see color the exact same as any other person. This becomes most prevalent when groups of people pick a favorite color. That bright orange blouse may appall you, while your aunt thinks it makes her look young and vibrant. Those choices are general, and easy to understand; but what about choosing between 6 different shades of red, not using saturation – that is pink/burgundy – using hue which may be thought of as yellow-red (warm) to blue-red (cool). If we ask for opinions of preference that choice become more difficult.
Now, you must realize that, statically one of twelve males is significantly color blind as opposed to one in two hundred females. This takes on a bit of irony since the gene that causes color blindness is passed down by the mother to her son/daughter. By color blind I mean having one of the major afflictions of color blindness:
- Protanopia – The person does not see red/green – red will become brown, orange – dark yellow, green- dark yellow, and purple – dark blue.
- Deuteranopiat – Here the colors become even flatter – green becomes brown, and purple the same as plain blue
- Ritanopia – With this the warmth is removed from the colors – bright reds turn magenta, orange to pink, green to blue, and purple/blue to cool shades of blue/maroon
- Monochromacy – Is as it states, lack of color vision – everything is black and white.
While these are the major forms of color blindness it has been variously estimated that up to 4 in 10 males is afflicted with some deficiency in color perception and 1 in 50 females are affective similarly. Color blindness can be also caused post-birth by “Shaken Baby Syndrome”, accidents to the retina, and/or brain, UV damage – looking at the sun too much, and certain medications.
Now how does this relate to the consumer packaging industry?
A recent study at the University of British Columbia found that when a series of fictional ads was shown to a control group of students, red gave them a more favorable evaluation of the products presented – regardless of the type of product. Blue evoked thoughts of an ocean, water, openness, peace, and tranquility. Not the best frame-of-mind for impulse purchases. Taken a step further the study found if the message was eclectic, such as toothpaste that whitened teeth – blue works well but to accomplish a specific goal – stop tooth decay – red performed much better. This study only used the red/blue color and none of the hues of each.
Other studies show us that yellow can be a color that induces hunger – think McDonalds’ Arches – possibly because of Americans fondness for starch/satisfying foods that are yellow/brown – think burgers and fries. Conversely, blue seldom seems to work with food because it suppresses appetites. Besides blueberries, really how many blue foods are there?
The basic packaging colors have always been the same – gold/silver/purple for regal/royal; white for a crisp, clean look; black for elegance; the pastels – melon, sky blue, gray – for soothing/relaxing products; and red/yellow to evoke emotion and generally best for impulse purchases. Blues/Greens rarely surface in packaging products except in non-descript household products or cereals. Most designers and packaging experts try to analyze how people would like to see themselves – not how they really appear. The woman wanting to inspire her husband’s lust would be more likely to buy products in red than a pastel package. Likewise, the lingerie usually thought to be sexiest is black or red, not blue or green.
Consumers of today are extremely sophisticated in comparison to only a few years ago. Consumers rarely buy any product without having prior knowledge of the ingredients; or taking the time to completely read them in the store. Because of this, the current trend to minimize the type size on the reverse labels is a mistake. Print the labels or silk screening in a sufficient size and color for easy reading. It is great your product is 100% natural but when you present the ingredients in 5 point type, and gray ink, on that clear label, so the only reading contrast comes from your product in the background; you’re defeating the purpose of the informational label. People with color blindness deficiencies may not be able to see your message at all. Conversely, with the aging of America you must remember that many people don’t always shop with their reading glasses handy. It is too easy to put the product back on the shelf than try to read what is in it.
In conclusion, design your package color using the emotion you want to convey. Keep colors complementary, stay away from excessive contrasts; unless you are selling an item that gets lost in the shuffle of display shelves. Don’t obsess about shades – your perfect red is probably just “red” to most people. Black is black, and white is white, so playing with too many shades of gray is only important to the designer who is trying to impress you with their acumen. Your wife may love that shade of purple but that doesn’t make it right for your packaging.