NEW YORK >>
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, Calif.
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. For example, a Texas baby boomer might want different paint colors than a millennial in Oregon.
The team also develops palettes around popular hues.
“Let’s say pale beige is trending,” Schlotter said. “It can seem dated, but when it’s next to a dark granite gray or an orange-red, it becomes fresh and new. Different from the beige a baby boomer remembers from the ’80s.”
Does the forecast team ever disagree?
“We have more than 20 stylists from six countries and four different industries, so the discussion’s quite lively. We’re all passionate color enthusiasts,” she said.
But this year the Color of the Year choice was unanimous.
“Violet verbena dominated trends reports from every industry and geographical region,” Schlotter said.
The color is a grayish violet. The forecasters liked its gender and age neutrality, as well as its presence in the natural world, from amethysts to outer space. Those factors should make it appealing to a wide audience, they felt, but the team won’t know for sure until products begin to roll out.
Schlotter is optimistic. Pop culture moments like the death of Prince in April and a new purple tea drink at Starbucks should draw consumers toward the color purple over the next year, she said. The trend is already visible: This summer the company Big Chill launched a limited-edition collection of appliances in purple.