Connecting with Color—How Consumer Choices Shape Trends in the Appliance Industry
From a color standpoint, trends work in every direction.
Color has power. It can trigger emotions, take us back in time and create unforgettable memories.
With the capacity to evoke limitless respones, color maintains a current and historically prominent role in our everyday lives, influencing how we relate to everything from our mobile devices, kitchen appliances and cars to fashion and personal environments.
As technological advances bring more comfort and convenience to our lives—think refrigerators that can order milk when supplies run low—appliance designers need to understand the important intersection of color and consumer demand.
Color trends reflect the tastes, moods and desires of the broader society. By taking cues either from popular social media channels or the latest gadgets, the ability to anticipate color preferences—and the capacity to sync those insights with consumer demand—plays an influential role in the success of companies and products around the world, including those in the appliance industry.
How are color trends currently playing out? How do color influences in one industry affect those in another? How quickly do they manifest? And what is the impact of emerging cultural movements and technology?
Consumers are looking for simplicity and clarity in their homes, a no-fuss style. Photo by Mandy Oliver
What are the hot trends in color and what are the main influences behind those trends?
Color trends don’t happen in a vacuum. They evolve and migrate in relation to global events, politics, the media and other cultural influences that we all encounter every day.
Color shapes our moods, creates impressions and provides an outlet for people to express themselves through clothes, cars, cell phone cases, and, of course, the appliances and furniture in their homes. It’s a way to identify with our environment and tell a story without using words.
Right now, we are experiencing a shift toward diffused colors, toned-down pastels and earth tones, such as browns, grays, pink flesh tones, tans, skin tones, faded-out terra cotta and a wide range of beiges.
With the increasing pace of change, societal pressures, personal challenges, global unrest and an abrasive political climate, consumers want to feel safe. We yearn for stability and clarity. We can’t get that from the news or pop culture, so we subconsciously seek comfort and constancy in our personal space—and our color choices for appliances, home fashions, cars and mobile devices provide that.
Are these trends reflected in other materials we find in our home or select for our appliances?
Yes. This cultural longing for stability can also be seen in the growing preferences for authentic materials. Even though knock-offs and faux materials are pervasive, consumers are returning to solid, authentic materials such as stainless steel for appliances, wood for cabinetry and quality fabrics for furniture. These choices give them confidence that their investments will last.
There will always be a default “wow” factor with new technologies, but the real search is for things that feel authentic, honest and enduring. That’s especially true in a culture that feels increasingly transient, where things like identity are often formed in pixels as much as in solid materials.
Where do we see these trends in appliance coatings or designs?
One example is matte finishes. Those colors and textures connote a simplicity that consumers want. Anything with a gloss is complicated by reflectivity; matte objects are more straightforward. The desire for more natural, muted and textured coatings—which reflect the colors found in nature—is a visceral response to the “digital clutter” and “noise” associated with the harsh modern environments of personal computers and other gadgets. We’re seeing matte finishes across numerous market segments, not just in home appliances. They’re popular in fashion, automobiles, consumer electronics and more.
The feeling of stability is also captured by the allure of vintage or retro materials. We are seeing the fusion of the nostaligic with the contemporary in kitchen designs, including appliances, and in furniture featuring retro and vintage colors. Again, this plays into the idea of a longing for simpler times.
The automotive industry is experiencing a romance with vintage styles, which also translates to the appliance industry. You see a lot of analog devices in cars and kitchens, but you’re also likely to see updated versions of something old—an antique aesthetic that’s been modernized, for instance.
Ironically, social media, which we think of as being so thoroughly modern, is part of the vintage/retro trend, too. Part of the value of Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram is that they provide a venue that celebrates both the old and the new. They are platforms for people to curate their favorite pictures, which often popularizes vintage culture, age-old euphemisms and retro photography filters on parties from just yesterday. As a result, the lines between old and new are now blurred. It’s like a music mashup that blends an ’80s song over one from the ’90s, giving a more modern sound to older material.
Healthy lifestyles and the foods we eat also influence which colors we are attracted to for our homes and appliances. Photo by Mandy Oliver
The world is constantly changing. How does color relate to this evolution, and what does it tell us about people?
Colors are a type of information that requires a lot of subjectivity and context to interpret. Like poetry, it can be complicated to understand. In some cases, the meaning of a color might have as much to do with material availability as it does creative choice. For instance, barns have traditionally been painted red because that color is inexpensive. Fluorescents and other pigments are commercially available only to specific industries. This has affected the art world as well, where painters have taken issue with the exclusive licensing of Vantablack, the world’s blackest pigment, to British sculptor Anish Kapoor.
Color is based not only in aesthetic decision making, but it’s also a factual (tangible) physical material. It provides a window into society. People’s attitudes and personal value systems, the general mood of a culture and even global changes are reflected in the colors of a particular era. This isn’t a new phenomenon, but one that we’ve seen throughout history.
Consider the current emphasis on sustainability and environmentally friendly products. Whether consciously or subconsciously, people like products whose colors aesthetically trigger feelings of consistency and sustainability—cardboard, oyster and mushroom colors are perfect examples. In a similar way, beige, taupe and tan have the look and feel of something found in nature that is soothing.
Although this perception is subjective, designers can tap into those emotions by communicating through their choice of materials. The appliance industry is a prime example.
Consumers may be attracted to the technology embedded in washers and dryers, refrigerators and dishwashers, but they also want their appliances to “feel” substantial. The appeal of stainless steel marked the beginning of a trend toward stability and substance, but that is now being tempered by incorporating warmer metals, dirtier finishes and other variations on that look.
Outside the kitchen and laundry room, we’re seeing diffused and warm grayed-out looks in furniture, wall coverings and paint. Compared to stark, crisp finishes, matte textures combined with low-gloss, soft white and soft black colors add a level of simplicity and ease that gives us refuge from the onslaught of information that we are subjected to each day. The antidote to the complexity of the world is to purchase products and create home environments that feel pure and evoke calmness.
Is there a standard travel route for trends? That is, does one industry establish a trend and others follow suit?
Trends can start in any industry—the sphere of influence follows no set pattern. Designers in the appliance industry might analyze architectural trends and the materials being used in home interiors.
From a color standpoint, trends work in every direction. Rose gold was prevalent in home interiors long before the rose gold iPhone was blowing everyone’s mind; but then, you also see home interior pieces that seem uniquely influenced by the look and feel of devices.
Color trends move very quickly in the fashion world compared to other industries. By the time you paint your walls a certain color, you’ve probably seen it hundreds of times in clothes and accessories, even if you didn’t consiously notice it. This is especially true in the fashion industry, which works to shock and allure repeatedly—the “strobe light effect.” The appliance and flooring industries don’t have the same objective, so they take the lasting elements—the “aesthetic strands” that have staying power—and fuse them into something functional.
Where does the appliance industry sit in this “speed-of-change” continuum?
In our experience, the appliance industry tends to “wait” for a color to become accepted before introducing it in products. Appliance manufacturers need to know that consumers are comfortable with a color in their homes before adding it to their “personal palette,” as appliances tend to have longer service lives than other products.
The bottom line is, design-centric industries observe one another closely. It’s no coincidence that the design of hardware and fixtures for home interiors mimics trends in consumer electronics and fashion. It really does all bleed together.
How has the development of smart appliances affected the choice of colors and textures in the industry?
The Internet of Things created an explosion in the level of interconnectivity in our homes. Now we can buy vacuum cleaners that our cell phones can start and operate, but that connectedness hasn’t changed the fundamental performance and aesthetic expectations we have for a product. We still want to know: Is the product durable? Does it have a pleasant appearance? Does the color make sense in my home?
Owning an appliance that is highly connected doesn’t imply a preference for complication. People today want a seamless environment in which things work together, yet don’t call attention to themselves. That’s why we see so many connected devices that are minimal and subtle. They incorporate neutrals, silvers, off-blacks and toned grays or whites because designers know consumers want simple, efficient products that blend quietly into their living environments.
When you get right down to it, aren’t consumers “color connoisseurs”?
Aesthetics is one of the most powerful tools a brand can wield. The more visual content consumers have access to, whether online or in cities or towns, the more their critical skills are developed in terms of assessing the aesthetic value of a product. Expectations have changed. Consumers today demand “visual poetry” in everything they buy. They might not realize it, but they notice and instantly assess the aesthetics around them, from the coffee shop they frequent to the airport they pass through. Both digital and brick-and-mortar stores are hyper-aware of the kind of experience they are curating for their customers through product, content and environment.
A major element of branding is simply telling a story, and what better way to do that than through color? Color has the unique ability to project abstract, interpretive information in a way that feels subjective, unique and authentic. If you love a color, you are being moved emotionally, and there is a lot of power in that.