Under Cover and Close at Hand: Embodied Metaphor in Packaging Design

By Vaarwerk, Manon Te; Van Rompay, Thomas et al. | International Journal of Design, April 2015 | Go to article overview

Under Cover and Close at Hand: Embodied Metaphor in Packaging Design


Vaarwerk, Manon Te, Van Rompay, Thomas, Okken, Vanessa, International Journal of Design


Introduction

The idea that products, services, and the communications surrounding them should connect to deep-seated consumer needs is widespread. Underlying usage of social media and communication devices, for instance, there may be a need to belong (aptly addressed by Nokia's "connecting people" campaigns), buying a family car may be triggered primarily by safety concerns, and using Post-it® Notes (® 3M) may be an expression of control needs.

But to what extent can such needs be addressed by product packaging, a source of stimuli that usually receives limited consumer attention? Certainly, product packaging can have an impact on many dimensions of consumer experience. For instance, through selection of shape and color, a package can stand out on the shelf and attract consumer attention (e.g., a screaming red or atypically shaped package; Schoormans & Robben, 1997). Likewise, a visually coherent package design is easy to process and may boost appreciation of product and brand (Reber, Schwarz, & Winkielman, 2004; Van Rompay & Pruyn, 2011). And ever since the gestalt school and their framework of principles governing visual perception, it is also well acknowledged that factors such as balance, proximity, and closure organize visual experience with respect to any type of visual display (e.g., Arnheim, 1969; Locher, Stappers, & Overbeeke, 1998).

But can product packaging also connote symbolic meanings that connect to consumer needs underlying choice and purchase? Although research shows that product packaging can be a carrier of symbolic brand meanings (e.g., Van Rompay, Pruyn, & Tieke, 2009; Van Rompay, Fransen, & Borgelink, 2014), few studies have addressed the extent to which such meanings may find expression not just in "traditional" elements such as concrete product imagery, slogans, and product claims, but also in more abstract or subtle packaging elements related to composition and layout. Furthermore, although in marketing and design research, couplings have been made between specific shape characteristics (e.g., angularity) and symbolic meanings (e.g., toughness or masculinity) (Van Rompay & Pruyn, 2011), research has not addressed the question of how symbolic meanings are connoted through composition and layout of elements on product packaging.

Three elements in particular will take center stage, elements that are important for the communication of meaning from a psychological perspective, and which are also essential from a graphic designer's point of view: 1) relative distance among visual elements presented on a product package (i.e., distance or proximity), 2) the extent to which elements on a package are encapsulated by a visual container (i.e., visual framing), and 3) the extent to which visual elements are represented within the same region or are visually separated (i.e., common region or visual separateness). Hence, the purpose of this study is to explore to what extent desirable product attributes and related sensory experiences (e.g., does a package that connotes care-related meanings also inspire a more positive olfactory experience?) can be communicated through these visual elements. To this end, product packaging variants were created for a product in relation to which symbolic meaning communication is all-important (i.e., a baby-care product). Before elaborating on the details of this study, first we will present an overview of relevant research.

Image Schemas and Meaning Portrayal in Language and Design

When exploring relationships between visual-spatial packaging elements and meaning communication, of particular relevance are studies in cognitive linguistics addressing embodied metaphors and the role of image schemas therein (Grady, 1997; Johnson, 1987, 2007; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, 1999). Image schemas are visual-spatial patterns in people's physical interactions in and with the environment, and figure prominently in figurative language use. …

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