Why superficiality matters

17th March 2014 - Fine Cut

We are taught from a young age never to judge a book by its cover and that superficiality is generally a derogatory quality. 

However, like it or not, consumers can be entirely judgemental and might reach a decision about a purchase or how to engage with a product within just a few short seconds, based on little more than a cursory glance. 

Therefore, when it comes to designing labels, you need to take into account that whoever is reading them may not take their time to consume all of your handiwork before coming to conclusions of their own.

The importance of this was highlighted by a case that saw a label being misread lead to a great number of contact lens customers pouring hydrogen peroxide solution into their eyes, mistaking it for a saline one.

According to a story by the Inquirer reported on Philly.com, while the packaging of Clear Care cleaning solution displayed bright red warning labels explaining not to use the product directly on the eyes and only to use it in conjunction with an associated special case to neutralise the hydrogen peroxide, it would appear the connotations of the packaging were too similar to that of saline solution products. 

The report went on to point out there was a history of complaints made about Clear Care, suggesting that such a misunderstanding was not unique to just one or two careless customers.

By making an assumption about the contents of the packaging based on its exterior design, this was leading many people to use the liquid in the wrong way - that is, directly on their eyes - and place themselves in harm's way.

While Clear Care only contained three per cent hydrogen peroxide, at higher concentrations this chemical can cause severe damage or even blindness - and certainly brought great pain to those who made the aforementioned mistake.

As a result of so many people making this error, a spokesperson for the company has announced it is in the process of redesigning the label.

This shows how important it is not to make assumptions about how much of your label consumers will read and also to take into account the fact your label could well be judged within a matter of seconds.

What is the most important information? What really needs to stand out? Are there any warnings or legislated regulations that need to be particularly prominent? You may even wish to conduct market research in which individuals are shown your label for a matter of a few seconds, before reporting on what stood out to them and what assumptions they have made about it in that short space of time.

While you may hope that whoever is reading a label is going to take their time to consume every last corner that you have spent a great deal of time designing, the fact of the matter is that individuals will want to find out what they need to know as quickly as possible, which may mean judging your label after just a cursory glance.

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