The art and science of color forecasting

This blog was originally posted by Jack on landor.com Jan. 1, 2011

With the arrival of 2011, Landor’s color forecast and many other expert color forecasts are now available to guide us forward into the new year. There are forecasts for fashion, home décor, automotive, cosmetics, electronics, architectural surfaces, and any other industry or product category you can think of. There are also macro regional and global color forecasts like ours. With so many different forecasts available, how can we use all the diverse information for our specific projects and industries? The answer ultimately comes down to the “science” of tracking, gathering, compiling, and analyzing the current colors, trends, and forecasts, and the “art” of identifying and “telling the stories” of the most important new consumer drivers. These drivers that affect color movement include things like the economy, the green movement, important fashion and entertainment icons, social media, technology developments, politics, unexpected events like the Gulf oil spill and anticipated events like the London 2012 Olympics and the British royal wedding. The significance of each driver can change from industry to industry and from region to region—your drivers should have the most important influence on consumer attitudes and emotions for your industry. It is truly an art to take all the relevant scientifically tracked color information and create a new color forecast by artfully applying the most important emerging consumer driver stories.

The science

Let’s break down all the new forecast and color information into a usable framework:

The first thing I recommend is to identify what color information is important to our specific project. In what industry are we working? For demonstration, let’s assume we are working in the home décor category. The first step is to seek out forecasts and color offerings for this specific industry. Paint manufacturers often have extensive trend departments and publish yearly trend forecasts that are available at little or no cost. The same is true for major home retailers, and home surfaces, flooring, and wall covering manufacturers. Track and collect all this industry specific color information. Arrange all the colors in a grid format with the source on one axis and the colors (arranged chromatically) on the other axis. The resulting color chart will show you where the different forecasts align and where they diverge. You will now have a good overview of where the industry is positioned chromatically at this point in time.

The second step is to do this same process for related industries. For example, one of my Color Marketing Group associates says: “What we wear ends up on our walls” (she tracks the color trends of the fashion industry as a leading indicator for home décor). I also agree with this practice as well as tracking technology/electronics and automotive color trends as related colors for home décor. Fashion is related to so many industries and runway colors are available well in advance of the seasons in which they will be introduced. Automotive colors are usually determined three years in advance of production and are also easily obtained from the important automotive shows. Once you have created your related industry color grids, you will not only have a good idea of what is happening in these adjacent industries, but you will be able to see where they are also aligned with your primary research industry. I especially like to look for colors that are showing in fashion and just starting to emerge in home décor. This could definitely be the sign of a new home décor color direction.

While you are collecting your colors from the various industry reports you will notice that the really good reports will support their color choices with consumer influence and driver information. You should make make notes about these drivers and look for reoccurring themes and divergences. As you become accustomed to working with different color reports you will notice that some sources are more leading edge than others. While identifying a common theme like the green movement across several sources may be of value it could also be an indicator that it is an older mainstream idea. The drivers from the leading edge sources may actually seem quite different and not in sync with the others. Don’t be afraid of these new concepts as they may be the beginnings of the next big color direction! This is where the art of identifying and applying new drivers comes into play…

The art

Art is an expression that forms an emotional and connecting experience between the artwork and the person experiencing it. It is about context and how the different design elements work together in that context to engage the mind of the person experiencing it. It creates and tells stories. Artists are masters of communicating with sensory elements. In cooking, the artist uses ingredients and spices. In music, instruments and notes are used. In literature, it’s ideas and words. And in design it’s form and color. Colors are the spices, the notes, and the words of design. Art starts with inspiration, the driver of all creative communication. In branding and marketing, the driver should be a unique and relevant inspiration that engages the consumer with an experience that ultimately results in the purchase of our goods or services. Having the right driver is key to creating the right design and color story that will sell. The driver story and the brand story should be one in the same, but some marketers view the brand story as an unchanging element that is set in stone. I disagree with this practice. The brand story needs to evolve and change with the real world driver stories. Brands are in a constant flux of change. They are living things not static objects. Brands move just as colors move through time and consumer perception.

I know that the concepts that I have presented above may be a bit difficult for some to grasp. This disconnect is often why many people do not understand how true trend forecasting works. For many people, it is just about the science of tracking the trends and formulating a current record of where we are in time. While this science is extremely important, it is only half of the story. The real crux of forecasting lies in the creative art of projecting and applying the influence of the emerging consumer drivers. As professional forecasters, designers, and marketers, we must constantly look for the next big things that will evolve and change our color and brand stories. It is not enough to track current trends. We must identify what will move them to the next level if we want to be trend leaders.

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