THE POWER OF FIRST IMPRESSIONS:
The Importance of Imagery in Package Design
Kristin Breen, Director of Digital Imaging Operations
January 31, 2019
Package design is all about visual, on-shelf impact. Whether that impact stems from product recognition, appealing aesthetics, or eye-catching design, it should come as no surprise that imagery plays a huge role in creating these visual influences. Imagery can also help explain what the package contains, convey a level of value or quality, and even evoke a subconscious emotional response or connection to a product.
In its most basic and simple intention, imagery provides the consumer with a simple explanation of a product. A bag of potato chips displays imagery to show the consumer exactly what they are buying – potato chips. Turn that bag over, and it shows a bowl of those chips on a picnic table for a party. Depending on the product category, imagery can play a very different role in informing the consumer while still conveying the basic nature of what the package contains. A prime example of this would be milk packaging. A lot of milk is packaged in a clear plastic bottle. There is no need for splashing milk images to show the consumer what is inside. Even non-transparent cartons of milk will not always have milk displayed on that front panel. Insert cow and farm graphics here. With alternative kinds of milk flooding the market these days, images of almonds, soybeans, rice, etc. come into play along with splashing milk to show that these “milks” are just like the real thing.
Just as simply as imagery can reference a physical product, imagery can also communicate the quality, or tier, of a product or product line. This can happen in a few ways. First, the quality of imagery hints to product quality. If the imagery on the package is dingy, was not photographed well, has not been retouched, or is pixelated, the first conclusion is most likely that the product follows suit. A premium product will have premium imagery. Low-key lighting, a low, “hero” camera angle, and a distinctive environment are all aspects that scream high quality imagery. Along the same vein, high-end retouching and seamless integration into the design go a long way in increasing the perceived value of a package and product. Imagery can convey a substantial differential in product quality when it comes to packaging design and is a powerful tool in selling product.
Taking a deeper dive into the role of imagery on packaging, the emotional appeal comes into play subtly and overtly across many categories. Bright, vibrant colors do more than grab attention; they also evoke happiness and lightheartedness. Muted and darker palettes, in contrast, elicit a more somber reaction. Movement in imagery draws the eye of the consumer around the package and also plays into those excited, happy emotions. In a more overt tug at the heartstrings, scenes of smiling people enjoying a product prime consumers to anticipate a positive experience with the product. In a similar emotional sense, when consumers can connect a product to their personal lives and spaces, the familiarity stirs up emotions as well. Though most consumers may not be aware that product packaging and imagery can induce decision-influencing emotions, those images are carefully chosen to do just that.
Sometimes, perhaps, imagery in package design is not weighted enough in the mind of the designer. The impact on the shelf can be immediate, polarizing and decision-influencing, either positively or negatively. The reasons for carefully selecting imagery in the package design process are numerous and can have a high impact on consumer connection in a retail environment. From painting a picture of the product inside, to evoking a range of emotional responses, to providing a marker of quality – imagery can say it all. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but those words mean nothing if that product does not end up in a shopping cart.