Colour predicting

Who could have imagined five years ago that clothes rails in the hippest of shops would be hung with brown? That we’d be rushing out in droves to buy lime green kettles? Or that we’d be queuing up to eat in restaurants with mandarin orange-coloured walls? Only the chosen few.

A scan round the shops of any high street – and that’s almost any high street from Kuala Lumpur to Kansas – reveals the ever-so-slightly eerie phenomenon of the Me Too. How come DKNY, Kookai and M&S are all selling jumpers in the same colour? It’s certainly no coincidence.

While there are always those free spirits happy to rely on intuition and inspiration when it comes to colour for fashion clothing, products or interiors, many mere mortals of design look for a little help from their friends – the colour consultants and predictors. Behind the scenes, with their swatches and skeins, their colour strips and storyboards, is an industry at work deciding on the colours we will want in our lives and that we will be happy to buy… well into the next millennium. As a general rule, the longer a product is intended to be around, the earlier its colours are chosen, and the more conservative those colours tend to be.

“I work on between two and perhaps eight years ahead,” says colour and design consultant Dale Russell, who names among her clients the likes of Ford, BT and Ideal Standard. She explains that each design sector looks to a different body or source for colour inspiration – fashion and textiles tends to take their cue from events like the Premiere Vision trade show which is staged just outside Paris twice a year, while the British-based forum The Colour Group, of which Russell is creative director, acts as a source of inspiration for many of those involved in product design and manufacture.

Another significant name in colour prediction is that of Paris-based Li Edelkoort. At the helm of her own colour-forecasting corporation, she lectures on colour and heads up a publishing company that produces the incredibly slick View on Colour magazine. Through the pages of this seductive publication, Edelkoort articulates her ideas about future colours. The notable thing about the magazine is not just its high production values, but the fact that the colour forecasts cover such a massive spectrum – it’s not so much a narrow prediction as a broad palette.

Pantone also includes regularly updated colour predictions for the US and Europe in its World Wide Web site at

“People have all sorts of strange preconceptions about colour prediction and the way we work,” says Russell. “And, for some odd reason it’s expected that because I work with colour I must wear colourful clothes.” Russell’s method of working involves first acting as a sponge – “I’ve got a house and studio full of objects I’ve collected, bits of packaging, magazines, tickets, egg cups, you name it”. She also visits dozens of exhibitions and trade shows – 100% Design is a big favourite – and keeps an eye on street culture and innovative designers, citing Tricia Guild as someone who has produced brilliant uses of colour and colour combinations in recent years. Cultural changes and preoccupations also play a significant role. “In the Eighties we went through a long period of black, and that, combined with growing eco-awareness, produced a range of earthy colours. It made sense not just because of our environment concerns but also because those new colours worked well with black. More recently, we’re already seeing lime green transmuting into subtler khaki colours,” says Russell.

With the growing awareness of the power of colour in marketing and sales, Russell has been pleased to see manufacturers take the business of colour increasingly seriously. “By choosing the right colours you’re not going to make a lousy design sell, but you can help good design,” she says. “There’s also a recognition of the need to incorporate colour at the very earliest stages of design – it’s not something to be added on at the end.”

Russell has also detected a growing interest in how colours work with various materials and finishes. “Plastics have enjoyed a great renaissance recently – because manufacture and colouring have improved so much, the material has come into its own. It’s no longer considered a poor version of the real thing. Finishes are going to be a really big interest in coming months – there is so much experimentation going on with transparencies, opaques and neutrals.”m

The second piece in the series will be published on 17 January 1997.

What is The Colour Group?

This non-profit making organisation provides a forum for the exchange of colour information and trends in industrial, commercial and environmental design. The group’s aim is to pull together an objective overview of colour preferences in the European and international marketplace and establish a consensus view of colour trends 18 months to 2 years ahead. Colour and design workshops are held with members which result in Colour Directions – a collection of colour predictions.

The Colour Group is based at The Studio, 17b Pearman Street, London SE1 7RB. Tel: 0171-633 9191.

View on Colour: The Colour Forecasting Magazine is based at 30 Boulevard Saint Jacques, 75014 Paris, France. Tel: 00 33 1 43 31 83 26

Pantone web site

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