The old aphorism says that you should not judge a book by its cover, yet humans often do exactly that. In fact, book manufacturers in recent years have branched out in their cover designs, altering the tactile texture of covers to help differentiate them from the traditional slick covers to which most people are accustomed.
Likewise, packaging design for consumer products is reaching out in new directions, and the term synesthetic design encompasses a lot of packaging design choices. In short, synesthetic design addresses more than just the visual appeal of packaging, connecting with consumers’ other senses as well to differentiate products from those of competitors.
However, although technology allows more scope with packaging design than ever before in history, there are certain constraints that will always apply.
People judge the (real and metaphorical) book by its cover all the time.
Synesthetic Design Cannot Shortchange Usability
Packaging design that is extraordinarily appealing may sell once, but if the packaging is not usable, the product is not likely to continue to sell well. Visual aesthetics can go a long way, but they can also be easily counteracted by drawbacks elsewhere.
For example, snack packaging that makes a lot of noise when the consumer reaches in to grab a handful of the product inside can be annoying enough to discourage consumers from choosing it to enjoy during their Netflix viewing marathon. Packaging that falls apart easily or that cannot be re-closed will be off-putting to the smaller household that needs to make the product last.
Does Packaging Fit into the Hands of the Target Demographic?
Another aspect of synesthetic design is the “feel” part of “look and feel.” A company that makes a product designed to fit into the hands of a 30-year-old man cannot simply paint their packaging pink and expect it to appeal equally to 60-year-old women. In other words, the people for whom the product is designed should find the size, weight, and tactile feel of the packaged product appealing. Are the pull tabs easy enough to use? How much torque is required to twist off the cap of a jar? Can your target consumer handle these characteristics conveniently?
Who is your target consumer? Can she easily use your packaging as intended?
How Does Packaging Impinge on the Senses?
The way a packaging design looks on the shelf is, of course, of critical importance. But packaging impinges on other senses as well. Certain packaging finishes may give off a chemical smell, or feel odd in a person’s hands. The total experience of using product packaging must be considered during the packaging design process to ensure that sales are not adversely affected by negative properties that can easily be engineered out.
People always have and always will judge products based on packaging design. There are numerous properties of packaging design that matter to consumers, and not all of them have to do with how visually appealing the package is. If you have ever vowed not to repurchase a brand of sour cream because it is impossible to pull the inner seal off without the help of a knife, you know how packaging design affects multiple senses and the overall user experience.
The great news is that packaging materials offer more choices than ever. However, all those possibilities do not negate a manufacturer’s obligation to ensure their packaging designs are both usable and aesthetically pleasing.