Living Color: An Innovative Approach to the Future of Packaging Design

By: Angela Spindler

As a young child, I distinctly remember when my first dream went from monochromatic to kaleidoscopic. I was doing a lap of honor on the terracotta Olympic track, blazing white lines guiding me while I waved at a sea of multicolored people—it was epic!

Color shapes the way we understand, interpret, and experience our world. It has long been ‘systemized’ with numerical values from the likes of Pantone and NCS (Natural Colour System). color trends are forecast by the ICA (International Colour Authority) 22 months ahead of the retailing season. Moods are dictated by paint companies as we color our homes with ‘twilight shadow’ or ‘iced frappe,’ and TV giants afford us retina frazzling brilliance with nanocrystals called quantum dots.

As designers, we have long known the significance of color when it comes to packaging design. We draw on cultural histories, mythologies, and symbolism and tap in to color psychology to define color strategies that optimize attraction. But as augmented and mixed reality influences more of our daily experience, I wonder: will we get to experience a type of artificial synesthesia through the color of packaging? Could the Cadbury purple ever taste like chocolate?

How could we harness and deliver practical information through color?

My curiosity for this began as I watched the gentle decay of a vase of flowers, heads drooping and petals withering. Time was leeching the color, leaving but a faded residue of the former vibrancy. While a certain beauty remained, I was prompted to toss them in the bin. This simple visual transition informed me to take action. And it got me thinking:

What if packaging changed color as the product spoils?

Like the decaying flowers, it could instantly demonstrate if a product was good, passable, or rancid. I’m not suggesting decomposing, festering packaging; rather, a simple change in color from the very vibrant to more monochromatic, thereby creating living (or dying) color.

Could the answer lie in chemistry? Or can we expect augmented and virtual reality tech wizardry to bring color to life? In our future, will color pulsate and deliver experiences that are more vivid, dimensional, and dramatic? Imagine opening the fridge to a ‘retinal circus’ with throbbing pink taramasalata and fluorescent green lettuce.

With packaging, there are already a number of innovative ideas driven by chemistry, such as thermochromics and photochromics. Many of us have experienced a frisson of delight as the trivia answer revealed itself on an arctic cold beer label. And more recently we've witnessed talking labels emerge: The Australian wine brand, 19 Crimes, launched an augmented reality app which brought to life the characters on its bottles. Considering these advancements, I have no reason to doubt that technology will see us using and experiencing living color.

Furthermore, the recent installation-based exhibition by Hella Jongerius at the Design Museum, London, looks at the endless possibilities of color. She speaks of ‘colors that breathe and react with light and which are not stable.’ The exhibition embraces the idea that colors are not rigid. Cleverly curated in three sections—Morning, Noon, and Evening—the exhibition gradually darkens. It gives a very personally immersive experience of color.

For me, Jongerius’ “Breathing Colour” exhibit defines the future of color in packaging design. color will no longer be static on packaging. Instead, its fluidity will inform us and engage all of our senses so that our experience of it is far more visceral than visual.

More good articles on color:
Designers’ exploration of color and its effect on people’s moods
‘Color and imagery’ the most appealing aspects of packaging
Hella Jongerius explores the powerful complexities of color


Angela Spindler
Principal Director of Depot Creative, Angela Spindler has, during her 30 years in the design business, notched up almost 50,000 hours of design across four countries — so it is safe to say that she knows a thing or two. In addition, she has squeezed in a Master’s Degree in Design, guest lectured at design schools both in Australia and overseas, and had her work published in a number of prominent design publications.