Brand recognition is what consumers may experience as a result of being exposed to visual design cues in product features and packaging. These design cues should communicate the brand's values in a way that's easy to recognize and remember. Here's a look at what packaging designers need to understand about using the right visual cues to connect with target consumers.
Explicit Design Cues in Packaging
Design features or packaging cues are considered explicit if they can be easily pointed out. The angle or curve of a package, for example, is obvious and can be instantly recognized as different from a normal square or rectangular-shaped package. People make associations with design cues, some of which are common and obvious, which can be thought of as explicit design cues.
A new car is often loaded with new features, some of which are self-explanatory while others require explanation. Since a car is a complex product, it typically encompasses a mix of explicit and implicit design cues.
Implicit Design Cues in Packaging
The term implicit means something is implied. An implicit design cue, similarly, means a message is implied by certain characteristics such as shape, material, texture, size and color. A large package, for example, implies a large product. A bright red package implies the product associated with high energy.
While explicit design cues are typically perceived on a conscious level by the consumer, implicit design cues can be more subtle. Ideally, the packaging communicates the value the product delivers. If so, the product is easier to sell when demand for it exists. Implicit cues should not be so subtle that their purpose is overlooked.
In-car designs, stronger shapes typically imply stronger power, while curvy shapes imply finesse. It's important that whatever the visual cues are in product design that they match what the consumer expects. If so, the product makes more sense to the consumer, as brand recognition becomes part of the experience of enjoying the product.
Mixing Explicit and Implicit Design Cues
In order to develop brand recognization, it's important that the brand's values get into the consumer's mind either through marketing, packaging, or experience. The shopper going through a large department store sees thousands of products and brands. Many of them may be recognizable through the repetition of seeing the items in the store on multiple visits.
The explicit design cues make the most initial impact to lure in the prospect. If the prospect is interested in the product, they may start to look for implicit design cues on a subconscious level. While the explicit design cues should capture the main themes of the product's story, the implicit design cues should fill in the blanks about the product's utility and aesthetics.
This combination of explicit and implicit design cues gives the prospect a story to think about. Compare that with a package that doesn't say much about the product. Such a mystery package might stimulate curiosity in some people, but the package that tells a fuller story most likely has the edge in holding more people's attention.
Packaging designers must communicate brand values in order to build brand recognition. Appropriate visual cues are crucial to creating deeper interest in the product. The more a packaging designer can balance explicit and implicit design cues, the greater chance the message of the brand's value will connect with the customer.
 It Looks Like a Toyota: Educational Approaches to Designing for Visual Brand Recognition (2007), by Toni-Matti Karjalainen