A Peek Inside The World Of Color Forecasting

Associated Press

Earlier this year, in a Manhattan conference room littered with half-eaten lunches, water bottles, laptops and easels, a group of color forecasters from PPG Brands was wrapping up a week of work.

They came up with recommendations that will influence the colors and finishes we’re likely to see in 2017 on a wide variety of products, including appliances, cars, phones, airplanes, paints, beverage cans, even holiday ornaments. They also picked a color of the year.

PPG Brands — which makes paint, coatings and materials for industries ranging from architecture and aerospace to automotive and consumer products — is just one of many companies that produce color forecasts.

 At this Manhattan meeting, the forecasters were deep-diving into color decks, field research reports, magazines, books and each other’s heads. The easels were covered with inspiration swatches, photos and descriptive phrases. One “mood board” listed the words “timeless,” ”memories,” ”diamond patterns” and “ticking stripes” under the header “Nostalgia.”

Small groups sprawled on the carpet with card-filled recipe boxes. They brainstormed, laying out arrays of coordinating colors that looked like mosaics, or game boards. Cards were edited in and out, until the palettes came together and there was a universal nod of satisfaction.

“We start really loose and abstract, then we take those organic concepts and make them more concrete,” said Allison Heape, a color team leader from Long Beach, California.

At the end of the session, the group prepared an extensive file of themes, colors and finishes from which designers and manufacturers can draw.

Dee Schlotter, senior color marketing manager for PPG’s paint brands, in Pittsburgh, oversaw the forecast session.

“We draw inspiration from global influences,” she said. “The team considers what’s happening in society, fashion, nature and elsewhere, and delves into things that resonate with consumers.

“For example, did a significant event take place this year, and are there colors that connect with it that capture the feelings it may have created?”

For instance, she said, “After 9/11, soft pink, a compassionate color, and chocolate brown, a grounding color, bubbled to the surface in home decor because they resonated with how people were feeling at the time.”

A few years later, grays became popular and dominated the neutrals category, she said, “because with the state of the economy and of the world, the hue felt right.”

The forecasters also consider lifestyle and demographics. A Texas Baby Boomer may want different paint colors than a Millennial in Oregon does, for example.

The team also develops palettes around popular hues.

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