When Sir Isaac Newton developed the first color diagram more than 350 years ago, he never could have predicted its impact on modern society. Color identifies a manufacturer, positions a product line and has become one of the most strategic marketing tools in use.
Considering that consumers judge an environment or object within 90 seconds of initial viewing and most of that assessment is based on color, designers know there is simply no room for error. That's why more consumer product lines are being molded by the vision of color forecasters. While some have compared color analysts to modern-day Rumplestilskins with the seemingly magical ability of weaving color into gold, our niche is based more on science than the supernatural.
Color marketers predict trends years in advance, but our creative process is grounded in reality. Casual observations and intense discussions of social, cultural and economic trends are all part of the process of identifying future color trends. If our forecasts don't mesh with what the world wants and can use, they are worthless.
Though many color analysts have no formal art training, few of us probably settled for anything less than the big box of crayons as children. And while we spend our days with our heads in the clouds pondering blues like "Bliss" and "Hmmm", you can bet our pencils are always on the bottom line, because our forecasts have the potential to affect consumer choice.
DuPont has a unique cross-segment perspective in color forecasting due to our involvement in the fashion apparel, interiors, graphics and automotive industries. My latest color forecast, Voluntary Simplicity, looks at the interiors palette for 2001 and provides an informational source to the way color is evolving.
Designers should find an easy transition to the new palette that incorporates both residential and commercial interior colors. In just a year, these colors will begin to envelop us in everything from paint to upholstery to carpet.
The forecast comprises four color groups that evolved from a growing appreciation for quality over quantity. Together, they define the lifestyles we live today—soothing, yet exciting; bold, yet traditional. Experience, for instance, is full of the energetic brights that experts predict the next decade will be remembered for.
Meanwhile, the warm neutrals of Access enhance in our environment the high level of human interaction we have come to rely on in the Information Age. In the midst of this change, Ground plants us firmly in familiar territory. Although these reds, golds and olives are traditional in theory, they allow us the opportunity to mix brights and be completely original. And finally, Moment showcases the biggest change in the palette. Not only are these cool blues and grays soothing and spiritual, they also look good on the new-edge, chiseled designs of consumer products.
As with everything, color can be cyclical. After the avocado boom of the 1960s, there was a time when companies couldn't give green away. Then in the 1990s, green came full-circle and rebounded as the color of choice for nearly a decade. And although green is still important and widely accepted, current predictions offer blue as the most directional hue of the next decade.
While Voluntary Simplicity is designed for interiors, my DuPont colleagues' color forecasting focuses on the intricacies of their own industries—automotive and fashion.
Bob Daily, color marketing manager for DuPont Herberts Automotive, has been forecasting for 16 of his 34 years in the industry and has seen firsthand the power of color. In the late 1980s, DuPont Automotive developed a teal called Cayman in limited run for Ford Escort GTs. At the time, no one would have dared paint a wall teal, let alone a car. However, within two years, 51 percent of all Escorts were selling in that color.
"We knew we had a hit, but until you get the fish into the boat, you never know how big it's going to be," remembers Daily. Little did he know, he had a trophy. Because of the popularity of that color, Ford's market penetration was boosted two percent and Cayman claimed its place in color history.
Color has a direct influence on emotion and consistently ranks among the top three reasons why people buy a product, along with performance and price. Daily says, "A Yankelovich Partners study found 39 percent of consumers were likely to change brands if they couldn't get the color they wanted—that's proof of the power of color."
Our world is primarily a world of sights, and the more we see, the more we want. Consistent with design trends, we're always changing to stay fresh and different. Fortunately for designers, color technology is evolving as rapidly as consumer tastes, enabling manufacturers to make fresher, richer colors than ever.
Including myself, DuPont color analysts in each division put out anywhere from one to four color forecasts each year just to keep up with the changing environment. Of course, color ages differently in different product segments, but it's aging more rapidly across the board. The speed at which new trends are adopted is influenced by changes in society and current events, and the global access provided by computers has had a tremendous impact.
Ninety percent of what we know comes through vision, and now we're able to see the world on our desktops. Our tastes no longer are defined by trends in our hometown, or even our own hemisphere, but rather by our overall global exposure. And nowhere is our growing society affecting change as rapidly as it is in apparel.
When I spoke with Roseann Forde, DuPont fashion director for North America, she indicated that fashion is currently moving into a feminine mode of flowing fabrics and adornment, all evolving from an acceptance of the power women have and their desire to express it.
"Back in the 1970s, women came into the office dressed like men. Some even wore neckties. The feeling was that if they blended in, maybe no one would notice they were different," says Forde. "Today, the question has become, is this woman strong enough to be feminine?"
According to Forde, increasing popularity in business casual attire also is presenting more opportunity for personal expression and enabling designers to transition their male and female color lines into gender-neutral palettes. Traditionally, ties and socks have been men's primary color expression, but that's evolving. Forde believes that even men will be making feminine fashion statements through a bold use of color we haven't seen in the past decade.
But when I asked Forde what she wears most, she simply replied, "Black. Let's face it, it's the most forgiving." Even though color dictates our lives as DuPont color forecasters, sometimes in the end even our hippest trends bow to basic taste.
Patsy Kuipers' career at DuPont began 20 years ago. As the color and design specialist for the commercial and residential flooring divisions of DuPont, Kuipers analyzes color trends, develops and oversees solution-dyed nylon color lines and creates carpet styling samples using a variety of DuPont fibers for commercial flooring. As a leading developer of creative materials for the design community, DuPont produces the color forecast as a source of information and inspiration.