Colour Considerations

When designing product packaging, including labels, the use of colour is a key consideration. In this post we’ll discuss some key issues to keep in mind regarding the symbolism of colour.

Many readers will be aware of the most common colour symbolism. For example, red signifies danger ahead along with passion or romance. Blue can stand for peace and stability, especially when used with white. Other colours can signify seasons. Green and yellow can stand for spring, white and grey for winter. Like the colours of autumn leaves, yellow and orange can stand for fall. Black can signify anything from hip coolness to death.

Colours can also have associated emotions. Again, red can suggest passion or anger. Blue can mean sadness. Green can mean hope and starting fresh.

Except for a colour like yellow, which is universally associated with sunlight, colour symbolism can be dependent on your cultural background. This is particularly true for people from non-Western cultures.

Time considerations

While it’s a fact that certain colours are objectively warm or cold, personal preference for colour based on the color “temperature” can change based on the temperature outside. Give your product an icy-looking package design and it will sell better in summer than winter.

Certain colour choices may also be used to evoke a certain time or place, which can be used to your advantage. For example, the “jewel tones” of Moroccan décor are associated with exotic locales. Pale pastels can suggest a tropical vacation. It’s important to think about these considerations and not just choose a predominant colour or colour palette because you like it. It may also be wise to poll a few colleagues. Sometimes that can help you avoid a costly mistake. For example, a company’s package design idea might involve using elegant, rich red tones in the marketing campaign for a software product, until someone points out that the primary market for the software is financial institutions, who may associate red with loss.

Especially when paired with certain styles of fonts or typefaces and other graphic elements, colours also experience changes in fashion similar to clothing styles. Just as you would not think to go to work wearing bell bottom jeans and a bright paisley shirt unless you were attending a 1970s-themed party, certain combinations of colours and typefaces would never be used by professional designers unless they were deliberately aiming for a nostalgic look. Every few years, colour palettes and font families go through a cycle of being fresh and cutting-edge, to being very popular, to becoming ubiquitous and overly-trendy, to being hopelessly dated in design circles.

Why care if your package design is on trend or laughable in the eyes of art directors and designers if they are not your intended buyers? It matters because the general public is constantly exposed to the work of these professionals. While few consumers may be able to tell you exactly why, chances are they too will recognize a dated-looking design when they see one.

Your package or label design may be the first exposure your target audience will get to your product, so it’s usually a wise investment to get professional help with your packaging design. Don’t have a professional designer on staff? Many can be hired on a project basis.

Questions or comments? Please post them below. We’d love to hear from you!