Kirsty Lindsay (Lead Designer, exterior colour), Breony Crittenden (Lead Designer, advanced design colour and trim), and Sharon Gauci (Chief Designer – colour and trim GM Asia-Pacific) provide insight on how they work with colour.
What trends in automotive colour are you working with at the moment? I understand you can work five years in advance, is that right?
Kirsty Lindsay (KL): At the moment I’m working on lights and brights for exteriors, and also reworking some old classics. We can work anywhere from three to five years in advance, depending on the program and how many colours need to be developed and validated.
Breony Crittenden (BC): I’ve been working on interior trends with a three-colour mix, combining warm with cool, and introducing classic colour accents.
Sharon Gauci (SG): Ambient colour, or the colour emitted from secondary light sources along with colour effect or colour change, is a big trend. It’s all about mood lighting for interiors, creating effect.
What influences these colour trends?
KL: Automotive colour trends have a lot of diverse influences. Longevity and freshness are both key ingredients in getting the colour right.
To be able to deliver a ‘new look’ to the market three years after it was actually developed, it’s important to catch emerging colour trends and technology very early on.
One of the main influences is the buyer. We need to be very aware of how the Australian – and also export – car buyer views colour on our products.
When we look at colour each season, there are always colour concepts that are not ‘traditionally’ automotive, so it is a challenge to see how we can interpret them to fit our markets.
Another huge influence is technology, as that affects how far or where we can push colours. New special-effect pigments are brought onto the market each year, and it is important to stay in touch with what our suppliers are doing.
BC: Colour trends are also influenced by global culture, by what’s happening in the world and how we react – things like whether we feel free to express ourselves or want to be low key and not stand out.
Culture influences trends, and trends are expressed in prestige markets first, before filtering down through the ‘masstege’ markets (mass market prestige), and finally on to the bread-and-butter brands. This all happens within a year.
SG: The everyday object is fast becoming a designed and considered product and as such the general population has an increased awareness of aesthetic appeal.
Design and colour are now a ‘currency’ separating brands from one another. The good design that’s easily available on basic products is increasing awareness, so consumers’ expectation levels are also being raised.
Where do you look for information on colour?
BC: We look to cutting-edge design-inspired industries that follow colour trends; for example, product design, cosmetics, architecture, lighting design, interior design, advertising, fashion, web design...
We subscribe to WGSN (Worth Global Style Network) and Material Connexion and we attend design seminars from visiting trend and marketing forecasters. However, research and experience usually gives you a gut feeling of what will be the next big thing.
The information we collect usually backs up the concept work we have already started.
SG: We also send designers to shows locally and around the globe. These exhibitions are not necessarily automotive.
Can you define what Australian colour preferences are now, and what they’ll be five years away?
KL: Currently there is a huge trend towards brights for sports models and I think that this is having an effect on the general and luxury markets.
People are beginning to see beyond silver and black as the only options for exterior paint and they don’t feel so nervous about selecting a colour.
Moving forward over the next five years, colour – with the help of effect pigments – will continue to grow in popularity. It will also diversify as design elements such as colour travel and hue shift become more accessible and, most importantly, more affordable.
Luxury colours will be defined by more advanced paint technologies and refined finishes and pigments and not simply by hue.
BC: The most popular colours for exterior at the moment are clean metallic neutrals, light bright metallic colours with a lot of colour movement, and look-at-me high-impact hero and sport colours in primary solid or chunky metallic.
In five years exterior colour will be similar to today. The colour inspiration will still come from colour-related trends, with an improvement in all areas driven by the technology of paint pigments.
SG: Australians have a preference for dark neutrals such as black and charcoal for interior colour at the moment. I think this is because of the investment made when purchasing a new car.
A black interior environment, for example, is safe and won’t date quickly; it has longevity. Exterior colour trends are also influenced by the styling directions of sheet-metal surfaces; that is, the shape of the car.
At the moment car design is about taut, clean surfaces. The colour we design needs to emphasise the detail and design of the contour and form.
Is automotive colour in Australia different to other countries? If so, how and why?
KL: Yes! We are by far the brightest and most expressive market globally. Our bright sport or ‘hero’ colours are very unique to the Australian market – people either love them or hate them. Either way, these developments always generate intense feelings and a lot of discussion.
Often our sports model buyers are extroverts and revel in the attention they get from buying a ‘hero’ colour on their car.
BC: Yes, our market requirements are very unique. We are the only market that requires the high-impact hero/sport colours and our customers wait with bated breath to see what we will come up with when we replace our new exclusive hero colour every year.
When designing for export, how are the colour requirements for a vehicle researched and tested? And how do you obtain information on international colour trends?
KL: The Australian test specifications are some of the toughest in the world, especially as our UV exposure is so high. Therefore, in most cases, we cover or exceed the requirements of other regions.
BC: Our colleagues in the marketing department play a large role in supplying feedback from export market dealers about their markets’ requirements.
We met with the Middle Eastern car dealers last year to discuss future requirements and to excite them with new colour developments we have in the pipeline.
We are in constant contact with designers from all overseas regions and we exchange information on trends regularly. We subscribe to, and are inspired by, local and international trend and marketing researchers.
Could you give some examples of colour preferences in other regions? How are these preferences influenced by factors such as religion and culture?
KL: While white has a huge call-up in Australia for fleet cars, in parts of Asia it is associated with death and therefore is not an appropriate colour for cars in those markets.
In Korea, black is the best selling colour on large luxury cars, but Koreans are not interested in blue no matter how dark it is. Black symbolises luxury.
In Brazil, car colours are kept extremely neutral to avoid attracting too much unwanted attention to drivers and their vehicles.
In the Middle East and desert regions of Australia, light colours on both the exterior and interior are much more popular than dark colours, due to the intensely hot temperatures.
BC: Our colour palettes are designed to work across all our models and markets, both local and export.
If a culture is more conservative they will prefer a more subdued colour palette and choose the staple colours such as silver, black, gold and pale blue.
The Middle East does not select green for their interior or exterior colour, as green has a special significance in Islam and adherents prefer not to wear it or touch it with their feet, for instance.
What are the biggest changes you see emerging in interior and exterior colour in the automotive industry?
KL: I think we will continue to get smarter with our interpretation and use of colour. The more colour is accepted and in demand, the further we have to push the boundaries to stay unique, and that refers to both the interior and the exterior.
BC: Interior colour will evolve in the next five years with the introduction of colour as an accent on luxury and luxury sports models.
There will also be a lot of inspiration from yesteryear, with refreshing new twists.
Mixing light and cool colours together, and continuing this theme of contrast by playing with light and dark colour combinations, is another trend. The home interior is influencing the automotive interior more directly by trialling new material combinations.
Exterior colour continues to push the boundaries every year as it becomes brighter and more interesting, changes colour on certain angles, and follows key colour trends.
The advancements made by pigment manufacturers help our paint suppliers to deliver the colour concepts we design.
KL: Colour is cyclical and there is always a fashion or hue. The tricky part is making it look good on a product that will be around long after the trend has passed in fashion or print media.
BC: New technology gives designers the ability to drive radical changes on the interior surface treatment and exterior paint design.