Color is emotion and can speak to the human soul in thousands of different ways. It is an integral element of art, design and aesthetics in general. Explaining color is like trying to explain the mystery of that which holds the moon in place. Perhaps French painter Joseph Fernand Henri L�ger defined it best as "a basic human need...like fire and water, a raw material, indispensable to life."
Color touches upon fundamental social science principles of communication, cultural symbolism and societal relations, according to Aimee Desrosiers, color forecaster and director of marketing at California Paints. "Color involves physics and chemistry, or the science of light, which involves the manner in which an object is colored, the medium or process used to color an object or the structure of naturally occurring color," she explained. "Colors illicit human behavioral responses and can be studied from a psychological perspective."
Consumers vary widely, however color is typically the most important factor in making a decision whether to purchase a product or not. "Color is used as an indicator of quality, an indicator of freshness, a distinguishable sign of whether a product is contemporary or passe," Desrosiers continued. "Color can endear a consumer to a product or send a subliminal message that the product is inferior. Color is considered an outward sign of a consumers taste, mood and ultimately personality."
When it comes to designing interior living spaces color is arguably the most important aspect of an interior design scheme. "Color plays a huge part in overall design," said Kim Danzinger, senior color consultant at ICI Paints. "It helps coordinate all of the design elements together to create one mood that is trying to be captured in a particular space."
Determining Color Trends
Every year color experts at paint manufacturing companies wrap their brains around color and develop color trend forecasts for consumers and industry. There are many variables that affect the direction of design and color.
"Trends develop over the course of time," said Debbie Zimmer, Rohm and Haas Paint Quality Institute paint and color expert. "Demographics, changing consumer desires, social and economic changes and technology all converge, or come together, to influence color themes."
"Color forecasting is predictive in nature, using a vast amount of information for analysis," said Desrosiers. "Not all color trends will apply to all products or all industries. In addition to focusing on external forces, a crucial step in color forecasting involves determining whether a color direction is applicable to a specific product."
Color trends are typically determined by the color trend organizations and by consumers, according to Danzinger. "The color trend groups consisting of many different product designers already know what has been past, what is present, and what is yet to come," she said. "The designer is always taking a temperature of what the consumer is using and incorporating into their lives.
"The consumer and designer influence the lifespan of a color depending on the frequency of use. Some colors resonate more with designers and or consumers than others," Danzimer continued. "Sometimes when a trend color comes into its popularity, it becomes a color that is widely used in many different products for several more seasons. Later you will see this color being used more frequently after it's 'trend life.' The color starts to feel like a common color, or one that is used everywhere."
New Zealand-based paint manufacturer Resene looks to overseas markets and gathers together a range of trends forecasts to determine commonalities between them, according to Karen Warman, marketing manager, Resene Paint. "The clothing industry is also a key indicator, though it must be carefully interpreted as many clothing trends will not translate to interiors because they are too gender specific," she said.
Going into further detail Warman said, "Color trends are formed through an amalgamation of available pigment technology pushing the boundaries of what is available and expert design opinion, with consumer demand acting as a key way to refine the color options into a useable marketable palette."
Environmental Issues Influence Today's Trends
Today's forecasts are not just about the most important hot colors, but are divided into lifestyle influences and the color palettes that best reflect those influences, according to Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. "This aids consumers in their search for a palette that fits their own personal comfort level while acknowledging that not everyone wants to decorate with exactly the same shades as their next door neighbor," she said.
For Resene color is generally seen in three ways-one color in isolation, one color in a color scheme and one color altered through effects such as metallics and varying sheen levels, according to Warman. Resene releases an annual trends fandeck-The Range fashion series of fandecks-and this combines new trends hues with popular hues continuing from previous years, metallics and wallpapers. According to Resene's Paint Color Cues for 2008 report, nature and especially the ocean and earth tones have warmed its color palette.
"The basic neutrals are tending more grey and white is waning. The underlying favorites of blues, greens and reds continue to underpin non-neutral schemes. Oranges, yellows, purples and pinks tend to wax and wane but are generally never taken up en masse for painted areas as these colors can be difficult to use well," Warman said. "Generally they will be incorporated with accessories during the trend upswing and these accessories will be replaced when the color downtrends. In contrast, blues, greens and reds tend to have greater longevity and while usage of them for paint will decrease during a downtrend the decrease is considerably less marked."
According to ICI's ColourFutures report, yellow currently is the color of the year for 2008-2009. "Yellow is a color long associated with opposing concepts-oriental and occidental, contemporary and traditional, spiritual and intellectual," said Danzinger. "It transcends national cultures and preferences in its ability to communicate optimism, respect, radiance and wellbeing. It is this duality that makes it so relevant for 2008 as we try to balance seemingly conflicting aspects of life, art, culture and innovation."
For Zimmer, today's trend towards environmentally friendly low VOC paints has influenced a versatile palette of blues, greens and browns, which encompass colors inspired by the earth, sea and sky. She also said metallics and brights are gaining in popularity to add 'pop' and excitement.
"Environmentally friendly low-VOC paints are popular for a variety of reasons, most notably because they lack odor. This allows consumers to put recently painted rooms back into use almost immediately after being painted," said Zimmer. "Another added benefit according to health and environmental authorities is that low-VOC paints are not considered hazardous waste, so consumers can take pride in knowing that they are not impacting the environment when disposing of leftover paints."
"The current trend in color selection in the paint industry focuses on convincing the consumer that more is better. Colors are added on top of an already overwhelming color palette year after year," said Desrosiers. "We've discovered through our research, that people want a more logical approach to color selection instead of being presented with a confusing amount of options."
California Paints recently debuted its Perfect Palette, which the company said allows consumers to choose from a selection of colors that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also logically chosen as the most desired colors available. The Perfect Palette presents a fusion of science and beauty, and includes 1696 colors chosen using a three-dimensional color mapping process. The Perfect Palette contains trend forecasts which embrace colors influenced by timely events such as the Beijing Olympics and the growing trend toward natural hues.
"Time and again, contemporary issues and trends are mirrored by the themes we choose for our homes and the products we buy," said Eiseman. "Eco-awareness is a resounding theme as consumers continue to be more thoughtful about what they are buying and the impact their choices will have on the world. Today's consumers find innovative ways to recycle, reuse and re-purpose. At the same time, there is also a need to relax, rewind, renew and hopefully, refurbish. The 2009 palettes address these trends, which will be reflected in designs and products for the home in the coming year."��
Consumers Gain Confidence in Color Selection
Personal preference of the consumer ultimately influences the color decision. "The psychology of how the color makes the consumer feel or how they rate the color's aesthetic value will many times transcend whether the hue is popular," said Desrosiers.
But with so many colors to choose from, just how comfortable are consumers with the color selection process? Paint manufacturers have worked hard to develop tools available on the web and actual sample material to help make the color selection process easier.
"Some consumers are uncomfortable with the process. They usually have to match to several products blending in the whole scheme," said Danzinger "It is challenging to find that one color or grouping of colors that will coordinate and work well in their space. Through the variety of our brands we try to create programs that are helpful in this process such as the online color consultant on the Glidden website as well as inspirational color collateral."
"There are many consumers that would like to choose stronger colors but are worried about how to combine them and the effect it may have on home resale values," said Warman. "We have a range of color tools from testpots, color charts and complementary color suggestions through to virtual painting software and we have color consultants in selected stores to help customers make their choices."���
One of the most important factors influencing consumer confidence today is the media, according to Zimmer. "Home improvement television shows have had a tremendous influence over the past 20-25 years in expanding the mindset of viewers and their attitudes towards DIY painting projects."
The idea behind California Paints' new Perfect Palette is that consumers want a more logical approach to color selection. "One of the most important and often overlooked aspects of creating a color system is to integrate color science and color theory into the logic of the color layout," said Desrosiers. "This enables the user to move through color space in all three directions light to dark, saturated to muted and through each of the six hues-red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Our new system also describes the relationship of the colors on a single strip. This is really helpful in case the consumer finds a color they love but want to see it a little lighter or darker."