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Color! Who Decides What’s Hot?

Wine GlassEvery year, color experts release their picks for “colors of the year.” These are the colors that influence designers and marketers around the world and ultimately end up in your marketing collateral, direct mail, posters, packaging, and displays.

But why do color trends change over time? What are the trends we can look forward to this year?

According to Jack Bredenfoerder, director of BV Color Strategy and past president of the Color Marketing Group, there are five factors impacting the use of color in any design project:



Color physics refers to the interaction of the object, the light source, and the observer. The same color appears different to the eye based on lighting conditions. “For example, if you have a color that will be viewed on outdoor signage and inside a restaurant under candlelight, you may want to increase the saturation of the color to be viewed under candlelight,” says Bredenfoerder.


Design trends are influenced by the culture around us, including colors of state, colors of religion, color conventions, and colors of groups (sports teams, corporations, organizations, schools). For example, the design palettes of Philadelphia are as influenced by the richness of its historic architecture as they are by the Philadelphia Eagles’ green jerseys.


Not everyone agrees on the emotions or meaning that colors evoke, and there are many philosophies to choose from. Regardless of where you stand, Bredenfoerder notes that context is still critical to interpretation. For example, red can be loving and sexy, but it can also evoke carnage, danger, and feelings of alert.


Unlike color forecasts, which are static, color forecasting is an active, ongoing creative process that incorporates larger influences such as politics, medicine, and culture.

Several years ago, when the political environment started to heat up and social issues sparked tremendous polarization in the public sphere, Bredenfoerder says, the colors went angry. “They were aggressive and bold as everyone jockeyed to be heard,” he says.

As the years have worn on, however, people have grown weary of the shouting, and there is a hunger to work things out again. Today, the color forecasts are reflecting warmer, richer colors.


There will always be color fads, trends, and cycles. Lady Gaga’s yellow hair sparked great interest in yellow for a short time. Others, such as the bright green used to denote environmental sensitivity, is a longer term trend. To anticipate emerging trends, Bredenfoerder suggests watching the New York runways and the Hollywood red carpet, since fashion designers are often harbingers of the trends that eventually reach the world of print and digital design.


Drawn from PaperSpecs webinar “Making Color Make Sense” (December 2014)