We humans are all influenced by what we experience about us. In fact we can never quite escape this completely—we are simply wired this way. What we experience becomes part of our comfort level and even our identity. It is familiar, which allows us to feel some level of safeness, because we are less stressed by the familiar.
This innate feeling could not be more powerfully felt than in the ways we experience—and choose—the colors around us.
I recently attended an industry lecture geared toward interior design and architecture professionals. Dee Schlotter of PPG (www.PPG.com) provided fascinating insights into one of the world's premier paint and coatings conglomerates. PPG is an important driver of global color trends, one of a group of business concerns influencing colors of all sorts of products we consumers see in the marketplace. (Read more on color forecasting).
Global color manufacturing trends affect fashion, home goods and more. That’s why you'll find stores full of certain colors one year, whether home goods or cars or fashions, and the next year you might be hard pressed to find that very same color.
I remember hunting high and low for a nice “Bordeaux” color bed comforter to affordably complement my client's fabulous custom upholstered bed. We'd used a delightful fabric interwoven with tones of rust, gold and brown-red, yet none of the go-to shopping outlets carried wine colors. It was perplexing, since it seemed to be a common color. Then I realized it was part of “last year’s” palette. I immediately went to Overstock.com which often carries old stock. There we found multiple choices and bought three comforters, just in case the color wouldn't be back "in" for years to come.
HOW CERTAIN COLORS BECOME ‘IN’
Despite my predilection to quietly buck trends, I found myself curious about how PPG’s research model and expertise is able to spot clear patterns of color preferences, locally and globally, and also with the passage of time.
As our global color expert spoke, I had a flash of comprehension that in the midst of all this global color forecasting, something deeply human and profound is at work. It was somewhat humbling.
Rather like those songs that immediately transport us back to high school or college, colors do much the same thing. I’ve noted that our elders are drawn to rich darker tones which remind them of their youth in the 1930s or 40s. The Baby Boomer generation seems to be drawn to more pastel tones reminiscent of their younger years. And those folks born after 1980 have no particular aversion to the avocado or gold that a good chunk of us joke about as being the worst of the 70s.
Despite my training in color in the built environment and its impact on the health, happiness and welfare of people, color affinities can change from year to year, and PPG color trend researchers from across the globe are on top of it. They convene annually, report on their local area “color chatter,” and after apparently quite vehement discussions come to some consensus agreement of a “color forecast.” These decisions are then manifest in the coating product colors we all see in the marketplace about two years later.
But here’s a question for you: How could a group of color trend forecasters from across the globe agree on one meaningful color, much less 100? How does one bridge the differing cultural connotations of various colors? For example, in the Western European tradition that is woven into the fabric of our U.S. culture, we historically have associated black with death and mourning, and yet in Russia it’s white that connotes death. Many more examples abound: just Google “cross cultural color connotations.”
What I found intriguing was that according to PPG, its color forecasts reflect broad global “moods,” a “mass human psyche” if you will. Ms. Schlotter suggested that currently some predominant moods are responses to a fairly universal sense of unrest and conflict in many parts of our world. This translates into a sort of subliminal yearning to surround ourselves with colors that express our needs for tranquility, respite, healing, belonging and groundedness. By the same token, a related trend reflects our hopes and fascinations with the outer limits of possibility, such as space exploration.
It occurs to me that in these two color trends are each expressions of opposite ends of a spectrum of human psychic survival tendencies in times of trouble. Avoiding being “escapist,” we embrace fundamentals that ground us, such as family, community and nature, and on the other hand grab on to the sense of wonder and optimism that is latent in our contemplation of the infinite universe (such as, again, space exploration).
All of these feelings are psychologically attuned to color associations, which at some level are universal, despite cross-cultural issues. I would imagine that the cross-cultural associations will cease to be hurdles as cultures are transplanted and blended with ever more tightly integrated markets, the Internet and social media communications.
SOMBER PALETTES AND CURRENT MOODS
And so, today we find color trends reflecting nature, but in a complex way that tells of the world’s underlying unease: Beautiful, complex, greyed blues and lavenders, nothing easy and bright like a sunny day sky, but with a sense of the weather changing, and perhaps unknown. We’re also seeing complicated greens that perhaps reflect the murky depths of a lake. Yes, these colors are all familiar, part of nature and comforting as such, but colors that are muted or tinged with shadow.
Both current research and ages-old traditions and intuition underscore how much we humans are part of and cannot survive out-of–sync with nature. Biofilic design is a modern area of study of exactly these types of perceptual relationships between people and nature. There is ample evidence that color choices can help bring us back into harmony with nature.
Interestingly, Ms. Schlotter confided to me that in her years of attending PPG’s annual consensus gathering, only one color was ever unanimously agreed upon: a greyed lavender tone named Violet Verbena, recently chosen color of the year. Curiously, I had just finished two separate projects where we used very similar tones of violet! Who knew that we were part of a shared global color mood? It felt just right to us: deep, calm, and not garish; sophisticated, but so easy to live with.
So, in the end, for all my fervent effort to seek out unique design paths, I learn yet again I am inextricably linked into a larger, more astounding design; that I am part of and influenced by a collation of common human perceptual and emotional experiences of people across the world. It amuses me that I encounter yet again this deeply philosophical and existential thought via conversation about global manufacturing color trends.
Jacqueline Hosford, ASID, principal of Jacqueline Hosford Interior Design, loves working with clients to design their spaces for optimum function and each client's ultimate delight. Jacqueline is a professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID); is certified by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification; and is an adjunct professor of interior design, State University of New York (Purchase). Jacqueline is a graduate of Barnard College-Columbia University, and the New York School of Interior Design with highest honors. She can be reached at Jacqueline@jacquelinehosforddesign.com.