Catching the eye — eyetracking for pack design

Packaging Professional magazine
8 May 2008

For packaging technologists questions such as ‘Does my pack standout on the shelf?’, ‘Which visual elements of my pack are most effective?’, and ‘How are consumers visually engaging with my pack?’ are important. The problem is that these are difficult to answer in a reliable way. Focus groups are the traditional approach, but the results are subjective and limited by people’s ability to express their opinions.

Eyetracking offers a more objective alternative to explore the effectiveness of pack designs by tapping into consumers’ subconscious behaviour. With this information technologists can scientifically quantify how well the pack stands out on the shelf, and why. They can glean what is working in the design and what people are focusing on in certain packs.

Eyetracking has been around for over 100 years, but has been dismissed as too expensive, cumbersome, invasive, and closer to a scientific experiment than to observation of natural behaviour. However, things have changed, and it is time to look again. Eyetracking 2.0 is an improved tracking system with applications in packaging design and affordable research.

One in the eye

The term ‘Eyetracking 2.0’ was coined by Robert Stevens, Co-Founder and Director of Bunnyfoot. The company has developed methodologies and software for one of the largest FMCG firms in the world, and implemented them worldwide.

Eyetracking follows the consumer’s gaze. The eyetracker has several cameras and arrays of low-intensity infrared lights. The lights shine onto the viewer’s face, marking the pupils and catching the reflections from his or her corneas. The camera picks up these reflections and calculates where the individual is looking on the display.

Crucially, Eyetracking 2.0 allows consumers to view packaging while being eyetracked without having to wear any intrusive equipment that could intimidate them. People simply sit or stand in front of a visual display where they are free to move their head naturally.

At the start of an eyetracking interview, the device is calibrated for the individual consumer. This takes 30 seconds and requires them to follow a dot around the display screen. The consumer can look away, and their eyes will be picked up immediately when they turn back. Participants in eyetracking interviews can leave and return without having to recalibrate. In the past this was not possible, which caused inconvenience since the calibration process could take over 15 minutes.

The tracker collects data of where a person is looking, with an accuracy of 0.5cm, and how long they looked there. Substantial amounts of data is collected as a record is logged every 20ms, equalling 50 records per second for each consumer. This information is analysed to create helpful and manageable outputs.

SuperVisual, the software from Bunnyfoot, has many visuals and metrics to illustrate the behaviour of one consumer, or the aggregate behaviour of many consumers.

Eyeing up the FMCG industry

This technology can be applied to the FMCG industry to determine effective layout and product placement within a shelf display. Pack standout and findability can be assessed on shelf within the context of its category. Pack engagement can be better understood when up close. This may include likeability, whether key marketing messages are being noticed, and which stylistic elements best convey brand image.

From global research for the FMCG industry, it was noticed that the optimal design for a pack displayed on a shelf differed from that seen up close in the consumer’s hand. Further research reveals that human eyes recognise different visual frequencies when looking at objects from afar compared to up close. Humans see more detail, or high spatial frequencies, on close inspection, and see less, or low spatial frequencies, from further away. Up close, the image shows Albert Einstein, but from afar it shows Marilyn Monroe. This illustrates that what is salient on the store shelf may not be as effective when the consumer picks up the product, and vice versa. It is important to take this into account when both researching and designing a package. Bunnyfoot are conducting a series of original research projects to ascertain best practice implementation of this.

The company has just opened a new branch named BunnyfootQQ, in Reading, designed specifically for standardised rapid field testing for fast and affordable results.

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