Curve’s extensive report on colour 
– its impact, integral role and future – draws on local and international 
views to inform readers of the latest thinking and approaches.

There are always new businesses within the design industries willing to raise their hands and claim to be able to make the process of creation easier or more profitable for professional designers. More often than not, the reality is that if designers don’t have the inspiration, skill and desire to create – no one can save them.

But could something as simple as selecting the right colour be the difference between a semi-successful product and a truly iconic design? Colour does, after all, have the ability to educate, to communicate, to transcend culture and language, and, when understood and used in the right way, to manipulate people to feel, think and even act in a certain way.

It can offer a link between the product and the sub-conscious of the general public. Understanding this ‘language of colour’ can be difficult and is where colour specialist groups are bridging the gap between colour and designers.

Organisations such as Pantone, Natural Colour Systems and RAL are all specialists within the colour industry and offer designers a language in which to communicate colour specifics. Other than a reference system of names, numbers and formulas for colours, many of these specialist businesses also offer colour psychology and forecasting services.

According to Leatrice Eiseman, head of the Colour Institute at Pantone, there is a common misconception surrounding the understanding of what colour forecasting actually is. “At no point do we desire or attempt to be in any way dictatorial when it comes to colour selection. We are not saying that the colours in the Colour View Planner (Pantones bi-annual books that forecast colour trends for two years ahead) are going to be the ‘it’ colours of that particular year.”

So what exactly do they claim then? Is that not the point of colour forecasting? “We provide inspiration to designers. Through research and world wide input, the colours we forecast in advance are there to kick start designers creativity.”

“We have designers from all over the world that are continuously colour watching for us. We take into account things such as colour psychology, socio-economic and environmental issues – anything that effects people on a large scale can be reflected by consumers choice of colour,” says Eiseman.

A good example of the effects that world issues have on the public’s general emotive response to colour was the 9/11 bombings in New York. “The 9/11 tragedy shook everyone to the core. People tend to want to be surrounded by traditional colours at a time like his. Colours such royal blue, heritage green and often colours from a country’s flag will once again become popular. Colour has the ability to connect people to feelings of solidarity and stability. We responded to the 9/11 tragedy by adding a colour pallet that represented traditionalism in the 21st century.”

Either consciously or sub-consciously, people are drawn to certain colours at certain times. This often draws parallels with social and economic status, whether it be the carefree economic positivity and therefore brightness of colour in the 1990s, or the return to traditionalism shortly after a social or economic disaster. Here arises the dilemma of colour trend longevity. What use can colour forecasting offer to industrial design industries that cannot re-create a product’s aesthetics every time the public’s mood so dictates. Perhaps it is all in how designers view the information that companies such as Pantone offer. The colour psychology that denotes the trends of the future is also the colour psychology that understands which colours create particular emotive responses within people, decade in and decade out.

As Henrik Otto, head of Global Design at Electrolux says, “Colour forecasts serve as inspiration for us,” but he goes on to point out that the life span of Electrolux products is quite long, and although they consider colour of design importance, they cannot rely purely on colour trends to make their products a commercial success.

Electrolux certainly see the value of colour, having recently launched a ‘war on white’ and enjoyed success with their Electrolux Ergorapido vacuum cleaner, which comes in five colours. Otto believes colour choice is a leading factor in this success. “Colours as well as patterns are important as it serves the purpose of allowing people to individualise their homes.”

Can colour forecasting companies such as Pantone, NCP and RAL really offer something new to the world of product and industrial design? Can they deliver forecasting to designers so that it is actually worth investing in? According to Eiseman, the future of colour forecasting in these industries looks bright (excuse the pun).

“As designers and consumers become more sophisticated and educated in the usage of colour, the benefits of forecasting will become more and more apparent. Designers will look for new finishes, new treatments, new colours – they will look for the colours that have fallen between the cracks. To remain fresh and contemporary when using colour, whichever emotive response you are trying to create, subtle colour variations need to be available. That’s our job – to provide the inspiration and to fill in the cracks
so that designers can have any colour they desire. A designer can never have too many colour options, that is for sure.”

It is evident that colour plays a varied role within the design industries, and as the variety of materials and textures available to the design industry increases, the complexities of colour choices will continue to develop. Peter Tennent, from Factory Design in London sees colour and texture as one. “You cannot isolate colour from texture. If you have a white feature on a product it could be white leather, white plastic, white suede or white metal – the appearance and emotional feedback the consumer receives from each white will be different. And then there is the matter of what shade of white!

“Colour is emotive – we have feelings in colour, so it is a natural thing for a consumer to react to a product that appears in a particular colour in a particular way.” The one thing that most designers and colour specialists agree on is that people react emotively to colour. Colour choices are as important to design as material choices.

“Colour is massive in design – it is integral to everything we do – it can ruin a good product and improve a bad one,” says Tennent. 

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