Why Color is So Important to Industry Professionals

Color, besides creativity, is the one thing that unites more diverse industries than anything else. From the elite couture of high-fashion runways to the grimy, gritty smudges on press room floors, careers can live and die by color. It’s also one of the primary motivators of creative professionals. Color is affiliated with inspiration, psychology, branding and art. And technology is changing all of these affiliations.

There are more than 20,000 books on Amazon.com related to colors and thousands of jobs on Monster.com concerning color. Even the color of your car can devalue it up to 20 percent. “Color not only motivates and communicates key messages, but it also denotes a certain level of pride and energy,” said Margaret Walch, director, Color Association of the United States. “Even the more conservative industries have an opportunity to resonate more deeply with their target audiences through the creative use of color.” According to a study from the Color Association, “color connects a viewer far more directly than words or numbers.” With so much money and research tied into one single decision, why should your company bank on color?

AN EXPERT INVESTMENT

Let’s start with two of the world’s most recognized names in color: Pantone and GretagMacbeth, which recently merged with Pantone.

Pantone, which rakes in more than $15 million in sales each year, was started more than 40 years ago for the single purpose of uniting the language of color nationwide. Like the broken Tower of Babel, printers at newspapers and ad agencies all used different inks with varying hues, making it nearly impossible to match up colors exactly every time. Even matching up textiles has been hard to say the least, not only due to saturation/absorption, but also because men’s and women’s eyes can’t recognize the same shades of red (according to American Journal of Human Genetics, women can recognize more red-oranges).

GretagMacbeth subsidiaries design, manufacture and market color management solutions geared toward increasing consistency and control. As national seminar speaker for GretagMacbeth, a member of encompus, an Apple certified color management trainer, and one of only a few Apple Certified Color Management professionals in the U.S., Marc Aguilera is also a principal consultant for ColorCritical. What he wants is for people to really think about color. “Part of learning is abstract in terms of color,” he says. “Because whether you’re a designer, in prepress, in film, that [awareness/knowledge] of color helps out tremendously in all disciplines. It helps the architect, the printer…we take so many things for granted with color when it’s on so many variables.”

Color affects creative companies in many different ways. Coca-Cola and Target may have both chosen to involve red in their branding, but they are not using the same red. Why red? Logos are chosen based on color association. Once the company selects which color best fi ts their brand, color managers are hired to keep colors consistent. And it can all start with something as simple as a rose petal. Doris Brown, vice president of marketing for Pantone, follows color from inspiration to execution in almost every industry. It’s her job to not only stay on top of trends, but also technology. “Say a designer tapes a rose petal up on their monitor, and then they go to their color wheel,” says Brown, “The assumption is that they’re matching that color, and I emphasize the word assumption.” Brown has a very good reason for avoiding color assumptions. Experts in other industries watch Pantone very closely each season to make extremely important business decisions. Fashion directors at the nation’s top retailers, like Bloomingdale’s expect Pantone to know what color and shade to make their designer handbags for next season – that’s almost two years in advance of when they will go on sale. So when Pantone says blue will be hot next spring, designers ask, how blue?

“When I say red, the way I know you and I are looking at the same color is because I say Pantone 200,” explains Brown. “Because you speak French and I don’t get it. A rose petal is great but if it’s not Pantone 200 then there’s no real sample of measurement. Even the ‘Star Wars’ characters were branded, given Pantone identification numbers, and threaded into our lives.”

THE POWER PALETTE

While the technological side of colors may seem to take the fun out of it, those who have the knowledge of both sides (inspiration and execution) have the power. “If you have the knowledge of the technology, then [the creator] will engage color so much more forceful they won’t just date color, they’ll marry it,” says Brown. Aguilera has been married to color for almost 15 years. Having worked with photographers who shot ads for everyone from Calvin Klein to HP, he knows the value of investing in color consciousness. “Sign makers’ artwork changes from vinyl to wood, from glass to metal, even vinyl wrap on vehicles,” says Aguilera. “So graphic designers who are ‘color’ smart provide an invaluable service direct to creatives.” The irony is that when asked to define color, most creatives are completely stumped.

“Most people can’t say what it is,” says Aguilera, who has given more than 50 seminars on color in less than three years. “They overanalyze it. I try to put color in the most basic terms so a child could understand.” Aguilera explains color in three simple ways. First is the experience. As we saw with the difference between how men and women see reds, experience contributes greatly to the defi nition of color. Second is light. “Without light, there is no color,” says Aguilera. Third is object. “If you think about outer space, it’s void of color unless light hits the moon or space dust,” Aguilera explains. “Color is the experience of light and object. It’s my own definition but people get that; it’s simple.”

COLOR OF MONEY

Aguilera says if he can get more companies thinking critically about color, they’ll spend a lot less money wasting time and resources trying to get it right. Dan Reid of RPImaging, a veteran color management consultant, gets paid to save companies money on color. “If you could lower the cost of producing the piece and improve the quality of the printed piece how much is that worth?” asks Reid. “Basically there is an investment that has to be made. What customers do not track is how much waste is happening in terms of redoing a file, waste of consumables and operator time.” Take Nissan for example. Nissan’s design team wanted complementary graphics for their 3-D design. Working with their design team on three patches of leather, they wanted real leather to match the HP printouts. “When they simulate the leather on their computer or in their sample kits, they need the matches to look real,” says Aguilera. “There is a lot of science involved.” But as we mentioned earlier, picking the wrong color (or getting the color wrong) can devalue the sale almost 20 percent. Nissan isn’t the only company investing thousands into color. Huggies is another big brand working behind the scenes on color research. “They didn’t want any use of cyan anywhere near their logo and packaging because moms freak out when that color is on kids’ skin,” says Aguilera.

COLOR SELECTION PROCESS

As the Color Association reports, technology is allowing more color to pervade more areas of our lives and communications. “It is part of the norm and not a luxury,” confi rms Walch. “We live in a multicolor world. A whole new generation realizes that you can color anything. Color doesn’t cost anymore than not coloring it, so why not?” The question may sound cavalier but the Color Association is putting some serious research and thought into the question of color – now that it’s no longer a question. “To license a Disney character,” explains Brown, “you have to live up to their style guide with 10-spot colors, but fi nancially, printing 10 colors to a box is too expensive. But now you can do it with a six-color process.” Brown referenced the example of one mother, who works at Pantone, freaked out when she saw – not cyan – but the color lime green on a cereal box in the grocery store. It was a Kellogg’s box with Mickey Mouse in a costume on the cover. While her child may have reached for the box first, she managed to throw the box into her shopping cart and raced home to tear it open. As an employee of Pantone, she knew that lime green is a multiple print run color – it cannot be obtained in a four-color process run. After tearing open the box, the bar code revealed the truth – Kellogg’s was using six-color process on their cereal boxes.

“The iPod is also a great example of how technology is infl uencing color trends,” says Walch. “We always gravitate toward where our interest lies. Twenty years ago it may have been tennis shoes. But today, special effects in technology predict where colors will go.” Along those lines, Walch sees metalics staying strong in the foreground of color culture, but moving toward more of a pewter and rose gold line. She also sees black evolving into something more complex instead of the 1980s flat black. “If you can’t measure color, you can’t control it,” says Aguilera.

But to create it, you have to be inspired by it. Having both the appreciation and knowledge of color is critical for creative professionals.

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