But those designers with greater knowledge of new developments in colour will gain a competitive edge. Curve Editor Belinda Stening compiled this special report.

... in manufacturing

A new educational and research institute dedicated to colour is about to open its doors in Melbourne. Designers, industrial engineers and manufacturers working in product development will be able to call on the services of colour experts with extensive international experience from forecasting to technology.

Barbara Marshall and business partner, Harvey Gough, a colour technologist, have joined forces to establish the Australian Colour Institute, expected to open in late 2002 in collaboration with Kangan Batman TAFE.

Marshall has worked with manufacturers in colour design and colour management for many years. Some of her major clients include Holden Ltd, the Nylex Group of companies, The Woolmark Company, Berry Yarns in Belgium and Hyundai in Korea.

“There is a great lack of education in colour,” Marshall said. “Designers no longer learn about colour design and colour management at university. At the same time manufacturers have very specific requirements but there is not enough knowledge in industry about the colouration of materials relevant to manufacturing and design.”

For product designers and manufacturers, issues such as long lead times, (sometimes up to five years in the case of the automotive industry), create special problems and require accurate colour trend forecasting.

The longevity of products is also an issue.

“If you are designing whitegoods, colour forecasting is not much of an issue. You may just use accent colours on trim for example to identify different models or ranges, but interior textiles are fashion driven,” said Marshall.

Manufacturers also have to adhere to stringent international manufacturing standards. Product development often involves working with tough engineering constraints relating to the exposure of parts to certain temperatures, chemicals, UV light and weathering.

Occupational health and safety issues also have to be considered, particularly when designing products that come in contact with food or are to be used by children.

According to Marshall, the costs of using certain pigments vary enormously with some pigments causing problems in moulding.

“The life and resilience of the pigment needs to be matched to the life of the product when specifying product colour. Sometimes a plastic product can degrade leaving the pigment behind, or the polymer survives but the pigment disappears.”

“The best example to illustrate this involved a designer who specified an internal car door handle to be moulded in polypropylene but the material couldn’t withstand the wear and tear, so it was changed to nylon and the higher moulding temperature burnt the red pigment to a brown colour,” explained Marshall.

Marshall advises that the same moulder should be used when designing colour of parts that fit together to avoid colour discrepancies and mismatching.

“When specifying colour internationally good colour management is required. This means specifying colour tolerances. Tolerances in colour can be specified instrumentally and ‘limit’ standards can be set using the internationally recognised ‘Munsell’ system.”

Moulders can often underdose or overdose the pigment additive and most manufacturers still like to include a visual check of a part. 

“When seen in situ coloured parts can appear quite different to the design intent which is why ‘colour bucks’ are used in the automotive industry.

“Checking a part under a spectrophotometer gives a numerical reading and takes the guesswork out of colour matching.”

Marshall says the light source needs to be specified in colour, for example, daylight, fluorescent interior light, because light can dramatically change colour.

“The best way to specify a colour is to provide all suppliers with a sample of the actual material in the actual colour.”

... in South East Asia

The South East Asian region is a world leader when it comes to focus on colour. The Pan Pacific Fashion Colour Conference is held annually and hosted by a different South East Asian nation each year.

This year the 3rd PPFCC was jointly hosted in Melbourne by the Australian Colour Institute and the Taiwan Fashion Colour Association. 

The conference is the innovation of the Taiwan Fashion Colour Association. In terms of fashion colour the Taiwanese refer to product design, not just apparel and include consumer appliances, computers, graphics and so on.

Manufacturers from all over SE Asia present a forecast and at the end of the workshop, colours are voted on and a palette is then distributed only to the participants. 

...in forecasting

Colour trends are generally set by the fashion and cosmetics industries, which have very short lead times and are able to adapt very quickly to changes in consumer requirements.

Manufacturers and designers working at the coalface of product development need to access specialised forecasts that relate directly to their market and product category.

Very few colour-forecasting groups are dedicated to manufacturing, according to Marshall. 

“Product designers can easily put their hands on marketing information but information on colour trends is not so accessible,” she said.

“Colour forecasts which rely on looking at trends and colours in existing products to speculate are useful to interior designers who are specifying existing products for a space, but not to manufacturers who are developing and manufacturing products for release in two to five years time in a wide variety of markets.” 

Marshall believes a ‘generic’ forecast, based on general perceptions, lifestyles and socio-political changes, is not always appropriate.

“This data is often beautiful to look at, but difficult to interpret unless you are a colour specialist. A specialist can take the information and apply it to a specific product area.” 

Marshall says manufacturers today need better, more specific forecasting information because of issues such as longer lead times.

“Specialised forecasts are best done ‘in-house’ by the manufacturers. Generic forecasts are not focussed enough on specific product and market requirements, and are difficult to interpret if you’re not qualified in colour design.”

... in trend forecasting Hyundai Case Study

Marshall works with Hyundai in Korea and recently ran a three-day workshop on Colour Trends and Colour Design with their design team.

“My brief was to produce and present a trend forecast that exposed, in visuals, all of the current fashion, lifestyle and material trends that might influence their industry,” she explained.

“Images are the best way to present a forecast to designers, especially when there is a language difference.”

To formulate the specific trend forecast, Marshall took information from a wide range of sources – an extensive and current library of images and samples gathered while constantly travelling around the world and visiting designers, market researchers, academics, trade shows and collecting data from organisations such as the Colour Marketing Group in the US and similar organisations in SE Asia.

Marshall then returned to her studio to ‘think’! She then began to work through the vast amount of information to put together her forecast.

“I don’t try and cover everything... I focus in on the one thing that is most influential, the Zeitgeist if you like.”

“I took the theme of ‘authenticity’, I looked at how it manifested itself in other trends and looked at the market segments of Hyundai’s range, (sports recreational, small car, family car) and the markets where their vehicles were sold.

“After presenting the forecast I worked with the designers over three days, looking at materials and finishes. The Hyundai team then went through a styling and costing exercise to present all of the options. They may choose a range of eight options and later reduce that to three.”

... in trend analysis Philips Case Study

Claudia Lieshout is a visual trends analyst at Philips Design in Eindhoven 

“At Philips, colour is the material, surface and shape in one. We see colour not as a colour by itself, not just the top layer of a product,” said Lieshout

“When designing products we want to avoid the colour being the ‘make-up’ layer that covers the product, to make it fit in to the market. Instead we always start at the beginning of a project with a briefing that high-lights the client’s requirements.

“We then look into the area of trends in a certain region, for a certain user group and try to customise these for particular products. The designer works with the trend analysis from the start. This means that the material or surface and colour is known from the start.”

According to Lieshout the ‘set up’ for trends analysis for a product designed for a specific environment and specialised use such as a medical product is the same process but there is a ‘filtering’ or prioritising stage.

“Trendy colours are not appropriate for medical products. These products have long product life cycles (10 - 15 years), and the design focus is on functionality and precision.

“Portable products such as CD players are worn close to the body and fashion trends are more important, they need to fit in with the lifestyle of an individual user.”

For products distributed globally Philips take all of the regional differences into account and come up with one colour for all, according to Lieshout. 

For specific regions the trends analysts visit the area to research and refer to other branches of Philips that are working towards defining colours for particular regions.

... in trimming Ford Case Study 

Manufacturers such as Ford and Holden employ industrial, textile and graphic designers and colour technologists to work in their colour and trim departments.

Designers and manufacturers usually work closely with marketers so they get to know their consumers.

Sharon Gauci is Ford Australia’s colour and trim design manager and understands the importance of colour specifying.

“Purchasing a car is an emotional experience, similar to a house purchase,” says Gauci. 

“A car is an expression and extension of a person’s personality. Our car models are closely aligned to specific customer attributes, so very early on, before we start designing, we know who our target customers are and combined with our trend forecasting capabilities we start to design our palettes. We tend to design our own colours. It doesn’t matter how many colour specifying tools are available to us, there just never seems to be the right colour “.

“The colour design process begins... we work to a set of ‘adjectives’ which describe a particular customer group, these are provided by our marketing and planning departments as a result of extensive market research and analysis. 

“We apply visuals to these adjectives and then start to design using colour sketches, collage and paintbrush work. We mix paint in our paint shop and establish paint references on paper or card.”

According to Gauci, paint is the most flexible system to use. She believes it requires more work, but insists it is much more accurate for the upfront development process.

“These paint reference cards set the program’s colour intent and are distributed very early on in the program to interior component suppliers of leather, fabric, thread and raw materials and suppliers of plastic as an initial visual colour guide. This way our suppliers can get on with any risk assessments, pigment ordering and cost estimation.

“Shortly after, we develop a master plaque of the interior colours with our raw material supplier. The master plaque is a colour, gloss and texture reference. It has all the visual and numerical information necessary for our suppliers to commence their colour development work.

“All suppliers create their own internal references from this master plaque. From here components or raw material reference standards are submitted to Ford. These submissions are then measured and checked numerically by a colour technologist in a ‘colour room’, and designers also do a visual check to verify a pass or fail criteria to our master colour plaque. 

“If it is acceptable, that reference then becomes the ‘working standard’ from which suppliers and Ford can ensure ongoing production meets that standard.

“One of our biggest challenges is to match different plastics. Polypropylene is a low gloss material, ABS and nylon are shiny so the challenge is to make them all look the same. “

Colour facts

Colour aptitude is the ability to discriminate small colour difference. 1:10 men suffer from a colour vision defect (red/green colour blindness) compared to 1:100 women. The Munsell 100 Hue Test is used to assess personnel working in colour.

Engineering plastics in their ‘natural state’ are white or yellow and are difficult to colour. Polyethylene and polypropylene are easy.

Organic pigments are more expensive and are not as strong as other pigments. They also fade more readily and they are unfortunately more difficult to process.

Pigments in general can cause distortion in plastic mouldings.

When matching to a swatch of colour printed on white card, plastics will always seem duller. 

Using colour tints to create coloured transparent mouldings is a cheap alternative to using solid colour.

Colour pigments for paints, plastics and cosmetics are now being dramatically enhanced by organic particles called interference pigments. These cause coatings and materials to move through a range of up to six different colours when exposed to light and movement.

Colour Specification Systems

The Australian Standard on Colour , the Guide to the specification of colours – AS/NZS 2633:1996, describes the methods of specifying colours and guidelines for specifying colour tolerances. 

Best known for its ‘matching system’, Pantone has been developing colour language systems for the past forty years. Based in the US, Pantone was originally a family printing company which kept an extensive library of colours and their CMYK formulas. Pantone was originally the name of a type of printing press the company used.

Pantone now supply colour specifying systems to the printing, textile, plastics, electronic media and equipment industries. They produce a 1147colour fan for the graphic design and printing industry, and a 1932 colour textile specification system.

The Pantone Plastics Color System has 1740 color references in ‘tiered’ plastic moulded chips showing degrees of translucency relating to wall thickness – this includes pearlescents, fluorescents and metallics in gloss and matt finish. 

Individual reference chips are available. These systems have helped to globally standardise colour specification in many areas of manufacturing and design.

(see Pantone offer to Curve readers on page 4)

The Munsell System of Colour Notation is a US colour specification and reference system. Munsell produce many books and standards on colour.

The Natural Colour System (NCS) is a specification system developed by the Scandinavian Colour Institute and is based on, how the human eye sees colour. 

RAL is the German colour standard system, developed in 1927, and used by some European countries.

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