Color in Product Design

November 30, 2021
Color in Product Design

Bresslergroup's method for color selection.Quick, what’s your favorite color?

Now explain why.

It’s tough, isn’t it? You’re probably fond of that color, because, well, you just are. But the person next to you isn’t. And you might change your mind tomorrow. That’s because “favorite color” is an idiosyncratic notion. It comes from our gut and the reasons are nearly impossible to dissect and clarify.

This makes color selection a tricky proposition for designers, especially those of us working with physical products where decisions are more permanent. I recently asked some colleagues about their approaches to product color selection, and I found it fascinating to hear so many perspectives, from the humanistic and emotional (e.g., green = ecology; white = purity) to opinions grounded in logic, reason, and commerce (e.g., red = stop/alert; purple = luxury).

In the face of all this fluidity, how does a design professional and his client confidently choose “the right” color for a product?

Getting Started

Ventev's mature/expressive mobile accessories.Color selection without a net—or color selection that is not driven by a rational process—is dangerous. Any meaningful color selection process for products needs to begin with an understanding of how colors connect products attitudinally and functionally with their users.

With the help of Reiko Morrison, a West Coast color consultant, we developed a color selection methodology that applies user-first design thinking to color selection for product design. This method isn’t a formula and it doesn’t remove the designer’s skill, but we believe it guides us through color selection in a rational manner that staves off emotional, gut decisions.

We used this method to help our client, Ventev, choose the visual brand language for its new line of mobile accessories. Here are the basic steps we used:

1. Identify Target Users and Create User Personas

We worked with Ventev to define their target market — professionals whose working habits place high demands on their mobile devices and accessories. These are business travelers and mobile professionals who’re doing the bulk of their business in cars, coffee shops, airports, and hotel rooms.

We created user personas to help our client understand a range of four different attitudes — youthful/expressive, youthful/understated, mature/expressive, and mature/understated — within the category of “mobile professionals.” This exercise helped us rule out an entire youthful/expressive quadrant as a target for their brand. (Note: “youthful” and “mature” are not age-related — they’re attitudes.) Visualizing all four on a grid and benchmarking them against competitors helped us realize Ventev is best positioned in the marketplace by communicating a more serious, businesslike tone.

The images of people we selected during this step to represent each quadrant stuck around and became visual tags as we made decisions about form and color. It’s much easier to choose color, material, and finishes for a user attitude when you have a photo and profile to reference.

rtve researchgate
Product Design
Product Design
Objet500 Connex3 for Product Design, 3D Printing in Color
Objet500 Connex3 for Product Design, 3D Printing in Color

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