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Color Matters in Product Design: The IDSA Conference Wrap-Up (Part 1)

Bresslergroup’s industrial design team attended the IDSA Northeast’s conference, The Color of Design a few weeks ago and I’ve had some time to reflect on the presentations (including my own, but that’s for another post). The topic of color generated some diverse and stimulating viewpoints that reinforce the importance of color in design practice today. I’ll sum up Day 1, which focused on trends in this post and follow up with a  a sequel about Day 2.

Day 1: Color Trends

Greg Dunlop (WGSN-Homebuildlife) and Laurie Pressman (Pantone Color Institute) gave presentations that were heavy on interior design and fashion, so the talk of color trends came thick and fast — as did the adjectives to describe them. You really got a sense of the high turnover of color trends in these industries, and it was interesting to note how different presenters attached different and sometimes conflicting monetary values to different colors (black = luxury; no, white = luxury; but wait! purple = the new luxury).

Pantone is positioning itself in the color prediction business, emphasizing the business advantage color can leverage. It was a shame they didn’t discuss their recently introduced technologies that move them further from just print and strengthen their position in resin color specification.

Hamish Campbell (Pearlfisher) brought a branding perspective to color largely from the world of graphics, packaging, and advertising. He entertained us with his fetish for color sneakers and showed us powerful examples of color being an essential part of brand identification for consumers (Coca-Cola, Twitter, H&R Block, Urbanears). He juxtaposed this corporate approach to color with that of Absolut Vodka who deconstructed their brand color association with the launch of four million uniquely colored, limited edition bottles last year.



Color, Materials, Finishes  vs Design, Materials, Manufacturing

George Iannuzzi (EMD Chemicals) gave us the automotive paint-color prediction perspective and brought things down to earth with the reality that white, black, and silver continue to dominate car colors on every continent except for India. The pragmatic Indians still hold a penchant for brown’s dusty road dirt-hiding advantages.

Tiffany Vasilchik (Material Connection) brought things closer to mainstream product design and gave a stimulating presentation on the importance of material innovation. Material Connection appears to be predicting material trends and helping their clients (like Nike) through the technicalities of realizing them. (Below is Delta 7’s bike made with carbon fiber/Kevlar IsoTruss tubes.) Tiffany described an earlier approach to materials consideration in the design process, pushing aside aesthetics-focused CMF (color, materials, finishes) in favor of more holistic DMM (design, materials, manufacturing). While I wholeheartedly agree with moving materials experimentation to the front end, I feel the shift in terms is just semantics.


Click here for my second post summing up Day 2 of the conference, when design practitioners gave us some insights into their personal approaches to color across many categories, including lighting, “med-sumer,” branding, and products.

(photos courtesy of Absolut Vodka and Delta 7 Bikes)