A study from the Institute of Psychological Sciences, part of the University of Leeds in the UK, manipulated the labels on two different products – water and vodka – by changing the shape angularity, orientation, and left-right alignment of the graphics.
“In our research we examined both shape (rounded versus angular) and orientation (upward versus downward) to see how this might translate to product design,” lead researcher Dr Stephen Westerman told FoodProductionDaily.com.
The participants, who were recruited from the University and all had an average age of 22, were asked to evaluate the graphics on labels on two different bottles – one saying ‘Basics Water’ and the other ‘Basics Vodka’.
They were then asked to rate the packaging design according to statements such as ‘this design is visually appealing’ using a 5-point Likert scale, with ‘definitely’ at one end and ‘definitely not’ at the other.
Rounded graphic preference
The researchers said the participants indicated a preference for rounded graphics, as well as upwards orientated graphics, and ‘upward’ and ‘rounded’ graphics were the highest rated combination in terms of ‘purchase likelihood’.
Westerman said it is still unclear why consumers favour rounded shapes and a left-side alignment, but that some researchers have argued preferences arise from the way in which we perceive facial expressions, such as downward-oriented, angular shapes being seen as threatening.
“One [other] possible post hoc explanation for this - which doesn't relate to these previously mentioned associations with threat, is that people like this shape because they consider it congruent with the types of products that we studied, i.e., the shapes looked like drops of liquid,” he said.
The study revealed that graphics placed to the left of the label were more popular than those situated further right.
Too early for brand decisions
Westerman said it is still too early for manufacturers to base branding decisions on generic research of this type although they could “take this research as indicating some features of design [and then] gather their own product specific data on which to base design decisions”.
Choice of design features will also depend on where the brand owner wants to position the product in the marketplace – whether the design is meant to stand out or fit in with other leading brands, he added.
It was noted more research is needed, especially as the study focused solely on UK participants, and there is little relevant research further afield.
“It would be interesting to conduct research that examines these issues cross-culturally,” said Westerman.
“A related question concerns the extent to which shape preferences may (or may not) be consistent over time - will people's preference be the same in 10 or 20 years?”
Source: Food Quality and Preference
Published online ahead of print: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2012.05.007
“The design of consumer packaging: Effects of manipulations of shape, orientation, and alignment of graphical forms on consumers’ assessments”
Authors: S. J. Westerman, E. J Sutherland, P. H. Gardner, N. Baig, C. Critchley, C. Hickey, S. Mehigan, A. Solway, Z. Zervos