The Color Blind Consumer Dilemma: When Packaging Misses the Mark
I recently came across this article by Tim Sykes of Packaging Europe that touches on something that I hadn't considered before: Is the packaging supply chain taking color blind consumers into consideration when designing packaging? Is there more that needs to be done to meet their needs? After all, this isn't a small segment of the marketplace. According to the National Eye Institute, as many as 8% of men (or 1 in 12) and 0.5% of women (1 in 200) with Northern European ancestry are color blind.
Sykes reached out to Kathryn Albany-Ward, founder of Colour Blind Awareness, to find out more about how color blind consumers interact with packaging and labels. Sykes asked if packaged goods brands are "doing enough to adapt their packaging and labels to the needs of color blind consumers." Albany-Ward responded:
On the whole packaged goods brands don’t appear to be taking colour blindness into account, as all too often important information can be difficult for colour blind people to distinguish. People with colour blindness don’t tend to use colour when making a decision on what to purchase because so many colours can appear similar to them. They will use other ways to identify products, such as size and shape of packaging and labels. So where a brand relies mainly upon using different colours to distinguish between similar products in the same range, a colour blind person is likely to be confused and this can put them off making repeat purchases.
Many brands use labels to set themselves apart. Think about the wine, beer and spirits markets, which often use colorful labels as a means of differentiation from the competition. However, are brands that rely too heavily on color schemes taking a risk in alienating a potentially significant segment of their consumer base?
The issue goes beyond just design though, moving into potentially dangerous territory in the case of nutrition labels and pharmaceutical packaging. As Albany-Ward points out to Packaging Europe, many nutrition labels use red type to highlight allergens, but for green-red color blindness — the most common form according to Colour Blind Awareness — it can be problematic if some consumers can't decipher the color coding.
A simple change, such as using a bold text or larger font size for the allergens, could help avoid a life and death situation. But why hasn't this issue made it to the forefront of the industry? It's possible that it could be due to a lack of awareness, but with such a significant portion of consumers impacted by this condition, shouldn't brands' packaging strive to appeal to as many potential buyers as possible? Not to mention that issues faced by color blind individuals made headlines in recent years.
Just a few years ago, the NFL made a major snafu when the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills squared off in one of the NFL's series of Color Rush games, in which both teams wear boldly-colored uniforms. What the league didn't consider is what the game would look like to a color blind audience with the Bills in all red and the Jets in all green, on a field … that was also green. It was so ill-planned that CBS Sports described it as "torture for color blind people." Below is a video of what it would have looked like to those watching the game who suffer from red-green color blindness:
Is There A Solution for Color Blind Consumers?
For brands and package printers, the solution isn't as simple as changing color palettes, since color blindness affects the ability to see a range of colors, Albany-Ward explained to Packaging Europe. But, by using various shapes and text to differentiate products or rethinking who the consumer base is for a particular product, both brands and color blind consumers could realize benefits.
It's a sobering realization that, despite all of the effort and emphasis brands place on color in their packaging, such a large segment of end-users don't see color the same way. It would be helpful for brands and package printers to connect with some of the color blindness advocacy groups out there so they can be sure to understand the needs of the color blind community when developing consumer goods.