What’s in a Color Trend?

Posted on Tuesday, April 25, 2023

By Kiki Redhead

In our professional and personal lives, we’re used to hearing about “trends.” It’s a staple term in fashion and business, and now it’s taking over the TikTok sphere. Whether we’re talking about denim, consumer analytics, or the latest dance craze, the word is bound to arise. As members of future-forward industries, we’re inclined to wonder: what is the nature of a trend and how does it impact industrial coatings?

When speaking of “trends” in fashion and social media, we’re often referring to short-lived vogues—also known as fads. By nature, fads move with the currents of entertainment and society, yielding to the ebbs and flows of fast, consumable content and style. Trends in industry, however, have longer-lasting influences. Trends are informed by happenings in the world, such as cultural, geographic, social, economic, and technological impacts, and vary in relevance and lifespan. Though both trends and fads live and die by the inclinations of society, trends are farseeing and can be tracked, analyzed, and projected more acutely.

Technology, architecture, and construction are influenced by trends, making them a critical topic for manufacturers. The movements of society dictate not only what consumers want, but also what they need in a changing world. For powder coating manufacturers, color is a major consideration here. The colors, materials, and finishes that go on these products are as much a part of the buying process as the demand for the purchase itself.

Preparation for emerging trends is integral. While fads are short-lived and difficult to predict, trends often work cyclically and can therefore be tracked and projected. For industrial manufacturers, who can spend years researching, developing, and commercializing products, early insight into trends can provide a head start on the competition.

Coatings suppliers and color consultancies assist this process by analyzing the path of color, material, and finish (CMF) in color trend forecasts.

The Business of Color
Color experts research and curate color trend forecasts for countless industries. Like many connoisseurs of their craft, color experts come from a variety of backgrounds and specialties—which is critical since these teams are responsible for creating well-informed, reputable reports. Personally, I achieved a bachelor’s in interior design and marketing followed by a master’s degree in trend forecasting. Half of my two-decades-long career was spent running my color consultancy, and the other half has been immersed in helping industrial manufacturers bring their colorful, trendsetting visions to life.

At Sherwin-Williams, our dedicated color forecast team includes authorities from across the enterprise coming together to share research and projections for the future of color in every industry we serve—from interior house paint to industrial coatings. I sit on this team, and I am constantly amazed by the vibrancy of color and coatings expertise that each member brings to the table.

In addition to our varied backgrounds, we bring a plethora of external involvement to these discussions. Color experts, forecasters, futurists—you name it—must be engaged in society, industry, and culture to be successful. Our Sherwin-Williams color ecosystem extends beyond our internal team to leverage the expertise of industry associations, such as the Color Marketing Group and Industrial Designers Society of America. Additionally, much of our research is informed by our customers. We collaborate with customers regularly to learn about the colors and finishes saturating their markets. After months of research, our teams pool our findings and then set out to produce industry-, segment-, and region-specific color trend forecasts as applicable.

Forecasting and Foresight
Color forecasting follows a similar process across industries and companies. Research and collaboration are pillars of trend foresight. Just as trends are cyclical, color trend forecasts are in a constant state of evolution. As the research is compiled and insights are shared, color experts work on defining forecasts and developing colors.

When I ran my color consultancy business, I developed the M3Trend process, which is used for our Sherwin-Williams color trend forecasts today. This practice takes place over six steps: trend management, trend identification and research, trend analysis, trend watching, trendspotting, and trend reporting and application. Informed by a spectrum of sources from societal influences to sales data analyses, our methodology distills information from longstanding global catalysts such as culture, economy, environment, and well-being into functional color cues.

The M3Trend process observes and manages trends at three levels: mega, macro, and micro. Each level is determined by its influences and lifespan:

  • Mega trends span 10 to 50 years and are global phenomena that impact all areas of life.
  • Macro trends have lifespans of five to 10 years and refer to specific major patterns either born from or contributing to a mega trend.
  • Micro trends are the shortest at a one- to five-year span and are niche trends that signal the potential for consumer acceptance or purchasing behavior.

For example, sustainability is a significant mega trend, fed by macro trends like ocean cleanup and forestry conservation efforts, which are then reflected and distilled into niche color palettes. At the Sherwin-Williams DesignHouse, we publish industrial color trend forecasts that center around one mega trend, three macro color trend stories, and 18 finishes on average.

Color Forecasts in Action
Color entities convey strategic and relevant information about CMF trends through forecasts, often on an annual basis. Our industrial color trend forecasts look three to five years into the future to help industrial, product, and CMF designers effectively prepare for evolving customer preferences. Our DesignHouse team travels around the world to present our forecast to customers and industry colleagues to aid their specifications. Additionally, we hold trend workshops year-round, which allow us to sit down with customers and tactically analyze their current CMF offerings and provide suggestions to keep their palettes ahead of demand.

Colors of the Year

Color forecasting and colors of the year work hand in hand. Our Color of the Year is chosen annually by our color forecast team and then translated by divisions into various glosses, finishes, and effects to fit our vast customer base. Selecting a Color of the Year offers paint and coating companies a valuable opportunity to display color and finish capabilities, acknowledge revolutions in customer preferences, and anticipate the needs of differing industries.

While color trends for industrial manufacturing have a longer lifespan than consumer trends for architectural house paint, the Color of the Year bridges the gap between industries. Our teams study the sales data of various color spaces and color families, such as reds or neutrals, to determine which have been on a steady rise in recent years. This helps us determine which spaces are gaining significance and reception in the marketplace. From there, we look for similarities in our trend research. Often, the Color of the Year has appeared in previous color trend forecasts and is therefore on an upward trajectory and already ingrained in the emotional and psychological shifts of trend research.

Color of the Year isn’t exclusive to Sherwin-Williams; many paint, coatings, and color organizations choose a Color of the Year as well. Though the colors may differ from one company to the next, they often abide by similar color spaces and macro trends. The selection provides a wonderful validation of trend research at work.

On the Powder Coating Horizon
Trend forecasting is a robust process, evolving from methodology to preparation to implementation to justification. Color experts must also pay strict attention to the technologies bringing these movements to fruition. While color evolves with the future, so do our capabilities for what color spaces, effects, and finishes we can apply. Our forecasts prescribe more than colors, but also finishes and effects that are geared toward each market.

This is good news for powder coating manufacturers. Over the past few years, we’ve seen breakthroughs in powder coating technology which allow us to truly expand our color collections and meet customer demand. This is largely thanks to advancements in pigment capabilities. Effect pigments are taking the market by storm, especially those with solar reflectivity and functionality, including mica/metallics, color shifts, anodization, and texture. Many customers are looking to mimic metal, add glittering shimmers, or enhance the tactility of their coatings—all of which are possible with special effect pigments.

Sustainability is also integral to powder coating trends. As the market evolves, so does our capacity to produce coatings that are increasingly cognizant of sustainable practices. While powder coatings are known as a more sustainable option, innovations in rPET use can expand customers’ forward-looking sustainability stories. Color experts use the sales data, customer insights, industry chatter surrounding these hot topics, and coating capabilities to inform trend forecasts and produce well- equipped palettes.

Trend forecasting is focused on the future but validated by the here and now. Color experts and coatings manufacturers work around the clock, listening to customers and helping them prepare for emerging trends.

Kiki Redhead is the global CMF and trend manager for the Sherwin-Williams DesignHouse.