The economic gloom is diminishing and the world is getting playful again. New ideas on colour, materials and finish are emerging across product categories

Colour is the most important constituent in the visual appeal of products. Along with shape, materials and finish, it imparts a unique personality to the product. This personality is the real story of the brand experience that the user finally relates to and narrates. Hence colour is also the strongest element of the brand and product design strategy.

Despite Apple’s best efforts, the iPhone 5c has not turned out to be such a game changer as previously thought. Apart from the much discussed wrong pricing strategy, a more interesting subject of study will be how the colourful iPod succeeded and iPhone 5c not as expected. The phone still remains a far more serious and multifunctional accessory than the music player. In a way, a bold and playful spirit in a product is still perceived as a more affordable and democratic idea. As opposed to the colourful, a luxury and premium offering still retains its distinction with different finishes in black. Arguably, at its price point the 5c could not carry off the intended ‘for the colourful’ strategy.

As dominant trends, it will be interesting to see some colour and finish palettes that will be doing very well in the coming year across the world and how they will affect India. In rich countries, economies are in a recovery mode. High growth markets like India are looking optimistic. Vibrant colour in serious mass manufacture is coming into all products in one way or another.

Here’s a short list that summarizes the essential industry watch.

White will not be as strong in the automotive market and best selling cars will have bold colours. Well, at least on the brochures. The DuPont Automotive colour popularity report is clearly pointing to colours coming back in a significant way. India too is sporting its favourite golden, brown and orange tints in the current year.

Glossy candy colours will be affordable hi-fashion. The imm Cologne fair last year showcased a dynamic and bold exploration of materials and colours. There was a great deal of unapologetic use of artificial materials. All big European furniture makers came up with polycarbonate and polypropylene chairs testing the limits of the materials to facilitate unibody construction and colour. Indian office furniture too is witnessing a tilt to the casual fit-outs entering the offices through a multi-use reception area that is colourful.

Hi tech is wearable and hence an apparel inspired approach is catching up. Samsung’s recent launch of Galaxy S takes a similar line of wearbles like Jawbone: A new language of softer feel with texturing and matte finishes that kind-of mimic natural materials is here to stay. Most premium gadgets will toe this line. And yes, the natural materials are dyed in interesting hues.

Metallics are getting bolder. The sophisticated tech products that are more lifestyle than personal are retaining the metallics. A shiny lacquer tint with a suggestion of colour is what seems to be making waves again. In India this will be predominantly seen in executive cars and laptops.

Retro chic is indulgence of the cognoscenti. Rounded corners and 60’s shapes with bold hues will rule design for designers. From home interiors to cafes and from lighting to textiles, designers will push this theme with one big change – new materials and processes.

This article was published in the Economic Times on 8 Mar 2014 as part of a fortnightly series called Functional Design authored by Makarand Kulkarni – Co-Founder, Ether Design.

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