Packaging design research

How Eye Tracking Can Help You Rethink Packaging Design

Have you ever thought, what is it about your favorite products that urge you to buy more of them? Maybe it’s the specific sensation or a positive feeling that you associate with them. Or, as it turns out, in many cases, it might be just the packaging.

In everyday life, we tend to underestimate the importance of package design. The first contact a potential customer has with a product is visual, which means that brands need to focus their attention on this aspect of their product before anything else. 

Packaging research is a field of marketing research that enables companies to understand how to tailor their product packaging to the needs of the consumers. In packaging research and design, learning about customers’ attitudes and behavior through questionnaires is essential. However, eye tracking has taken this research field to a new level by opening a window into the subconscious.

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What packaging insights can you gain with eye tracking?

Although consumers’ attitudes and behavior can be quite insightful, sometimes it’s not that easy to connect this data to their purchasing decisions. The reason — most of these decisions happen in the subconscious. Post-hoc attitude measurements allow consumers to rethink their decisions, which might not be the same thought process they were going through when making the purchase.

Eye tracking comes in handy to bridge this gap between what customers think and what they say they think. Namely, eye tracking provides data about how consumers’ attention is spread in real-time. Since a fair amount of our decision-making is done in the subconscious (some say up to 95%), it’s important to have information about what happens in the consumer’s mind at the moment of purchase.

In terms of packaging, eye tracking can be more than useful to companies who wish to know:

 

  • Do consumers notice the products at all?
  • Is this packaging attractive enough for consumers?
  • Does this packaging draw consumers’ attention?
  • What aspects of the packaging are consumers ignoring?
  • What aspects are they focusing on the most?
  • Is important information visible enough?

Before eye tracking was commercialized, most of these questions would be impossible to answer. Today, there are multiple ways to conduct eye tracking, depending on your research questions and interests.

Image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/133559945179999250/

How eye tracking can be used in packaging research

There are four different ways eye tracking can be conducted to gain insight on packaging design:

Screen-based eye tracking

This type of research is commonly done with high-precision infrared trackers, usually mounted to the bottom of the computer screen. Stimuli, i.e. package designs, are presented on the screen. The participants are instructed to move as little as possible, and a chin rest is used in some cases to prevent unnecessary head movement. The eye tracker can then very precisely calculate:

  • Number of saccades and antisaccade
  • Number of fixations
  • Order of fixations
  • Number of blinks
  • Dwell time

… or other more specific parameters, based on the analysis of your Areas of Interest (AOIs). All of this data can further be used to generate gaze paths or heat maps that allow for a clear understanding of the consumers’ visual behavior.

Testing with wearable eye trackers

If you are more interested in understanding how users behave in a natural surrounding, then wearable trackers are the best option. Unlike screen-based trackers that require stillness, wearable trackers come in the form of glasses that fit almost seamlessly. 

Wearable trackers can be taken out of the lab to see how consumers visually behave in the shops, how they navigate the shelves, and, most importantly, how they look at the packaging. This type of research provides data with high ecological validity. Unlike lab research, it doesn’t only resemble conditions in the real world — it is the real world.

Webcam eye tracking

For those who wish to know how consumers interact with their products on the internet, webcam eye trackers are the most suitable option. Unlike the infrared trackers, webcam eye trackers use a different measure to calculate gaze points, which requires participants to be fairly still during the sessions. 

Although it does not offer high precision, webcam-based eye trackers can provide valuable info on a larger number of people — and fast. It’s a go-to option for those who can afford to sacrifice precision for a high number of participants that need to be gathered quickly.

Image source: https://www.ashokcharan.com/Marketing-Analytics/~pk-packaging-biometrics-engagement.php

Predictive eye tracking

Finally, one option is fairly new to the market but has started to gain popularity since no participants are needed. Predictive eye tracking uses AI algorithms that have learned from tens of thousands of the previous eye tracking studies to predict where the consumers will be looking when presented with novel packaging. 

The algorithms require an image input, and you can choose the AOIs you are most interested in. After analyzing the image, the algorithms most commonly output a heat map with predicted Percentages of Attention (PoAs). In the case of Attention Insight’s algorithm, these predictions have up to 94% resemblance to actual eye tracking data. Thus, you can acquire the same packaging insights and have a solid base to improve your packaging design without gathering any new data. 

Eye tracking use cases in packaging research

Many brands have leaned on eye tracking studies to improve their sales, which eventually led to exploring issues in packaging design. One such example is the Stratégir case study, which resulted in improving their sales growth by an amazing 15%. Experts from Tobii note that in some cases, making adjustments to packaging design has led to an increase in sales of up to 40%.

In the case of Stratégir’s Bonduelle salad, by examining consumers’ attention, the researchers concluded that it was hard for them to find relevant information on the packaging. In the image below, the most attention is centered on the product’s name (represented by the “warmer” red colors). At the same time, consumers peripherally scanned the rest of the packaging without focusing much attention anywhere else.

Bonduelle packaging heatmaps
Image source: https://www.tobiipro.com/applications/marketing-user-research/case-studies/strategir/

The issue with the packaging above was interpreted as a lack of contrast — information in green was placed over the green contents of the package. Moreover, the information was scattered across the package rather than centered. Stratégir then used these eye tracking insights to redesign their packaging to make the relevant information more visible, which turned out to be a good business decision.

Bonduelle packaging heatmaps
Image source: https://www.tobiipro.com/applications/marketing-user-research/case-studies/strategir/

One study by Piqueras-Fiszman et al. (2013) focused solely on a packaging design by varying different features of a made-up jam product. The study showed how adjusting minor packaging details can change the way participants visually interact with a product, and it also affected their willingness to try them.

The researchers contrasted jars with a rigged surface to those with rounded edges. They also manipulated the flavor labels and the shape of the jar, and the information label. They found that the rigged surface helps the attention spread to areas that were ignored on the rounded jars. However, rounded jars seem to direct more attention to flavor labels. The logo and the flavor labels attracted more attention than the information labels in both cases.

jars packaging heatmaps
Image source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0950329312002005

However, participants reported they were less willing to try the jams with a rugged surface. Thus, depending on your packaging design goals, eye tracking can provide useful information to help you make a series of decisions that can significantly affect consumers’ choices.

Packaging analysis with Attention Insight 

Attention Insight uses a predictive AI algorithm that can provide users with very precise predictions on where potential consumers might look when interacting with a product packaging. The algorithm can be used to study not only one’s own material but the competition as well. 

One example of how predictive eye tracking can help you keep up with the competitors is by analyzing their new packaging and comparing it to the previous ones. Thus, you don’t need to experiment on your own, as you may learn from the mistakes others have made thanks to predictive eye tracking. One such example is Tropicana’s packaging redesign failure, which led to Tropicana’s sales falling around 20%. 

Tropicana packaging
Tropicana packaging heatmaps

The image above shows how Attention Insight’s algorithm calculated the predicted PoA for the brand logo. Once the logo was made more peripheral on the new packaging (to the right), it caught almost no attention compared to the previous packaging where the logo was central. Attention to the new packaging is scattered on less important information because the visual hierarchy has been disrupted. Consequently, the product is less recognizable as Tropicana, while the brand’s logo PoA fell from 15% to only 2%.

Another key feature of predictive eye tracking is that its results are comparable to real eye tracking studies but take less time to conduct. Instead of a couple of weeks, Attention Insight can shorten the time spent on packaging research and design to only a few hours. 

Let’s look at the Bonduelle salad example again to see what predictive eye tracking could’ve told us and compare the results to the original study. 



Bonduelle packaging heatmap
Bonduelle packaging heatmap

The PoAs in the previous version (to the left) were highly centered on the brand’s logo, while the rest of the information on the packaging was almost ignored. The new design has more contrast and a clear hierarchy which enables attention to spread evenly across the centerline of the package. This design is more suitable as it draws the consumers’ attention to what the company wants them to see. These results, as well as the conclusions and packaging insights, are very much in line with the original eye tracking study.

Conclusion

Although mainstream packaging research techniques are very useful for gaining significant insight into improving packaging design, eye tracking can provide a more in-depth understanding of the consumers’ attention. The distinctive benefit of eye tracking is that it can provide data about the consumer’s subconscious mind, which other methods can’t reach.

However, it’s important to know what you wish to find out when choosing to conduct eye tracking research. Additionally, it’s good to keep in mind that eye tracking can’t answer what consumers think. Still, by telling us where they are looking, we can make strong assumptions about their preferences and predict their decisions before they even make them.

FAQ

Packaging research

Packaging research is a field of marketing research that provides insights to brands about how users perceive their packaging. Research focuses on understanding the downsides and upsides of a product packaging to improve the designs.

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