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Color Matters in Product Design: The IDSA Conference Wrap-Up (Part 2)

With design practitioners taking the stage, the second day of the IDSA Northeast Conference, The Color of Design,¬†felt closer to home than Day 1’s focus on trends. (See my wrap-up of Day 1.)¬†Gary Natsume (Ecco Design) stuck to the topic of color and culture, talking about his agency’s work for several Far East clients. Using an ‘East meets West’ theme he described how Ecco helps Eastern clients understand and design for Western markets and vice versa. Japan appears to have no issue with extensive color choices when it comes to mobile phones. The mobile carrier, Soft Bank, offers its phone models in at least 25 Pantone colors.


Two lighting designers, Derek Porter (Derek Porter Studio) and Courtney Hewitt (Osram Sylvania), gave very different presentations. The contrast of Derek’s very humanistic design viewpoint to Courtney’s LED mini science lesson was inspiring. I couldn’t help thinking that the old static color world of print and pigment may be making way for the dynamic color world of new lighting technologies. Lighting designers may also have more things in common with UI designers than I’d realized. Both deal with the effects of radiated color as opposed to product designers who largely manage the effects of color under reflected light.

My own presentation described a color selection process we’ve used effectively at Bresslergroup for projects where color choice can at first appear endless and daunting. Using a recent case study about Ventev mobile accessories, I took the audience through a step-by-step methodology for identifying potential user attitudes to color; generating targeted color, material, and finish options; and then refining and validating final color implementation. It was rewarding to hear other presenters echo our belief that user-color preferences are independent of age and more determined by attitude.


We may not have realized it at the time but I think Marty Gage and Justine Carleton Cage (Lextant) offered the most controversial viewpoint of the conference. Using their background in user research and experience design, they offered a counterpoint to a world where colors are steeped in cultural meaning and brand association. If the consumer of tomorrow can home-print the product they want in the color they want, free of the designer’s control, will color represent anything other than a personal attitude?


(photos courtesy of SoftBank and MakerBot)