Encyclopedia of Color Science and Technology

2016 Edition
| Editors: Ming Ronnier Luo

Color Trends

  • Maria Luisa Musso
  • Renata Pompas
  • Leonhard Oberascher
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-8071-7_238



Expected forthcoming market interest in some specific color shades.


Sociological Function of Color Trends

Color trends are temporal collective color preferences. They restrain individual- as well as group-specific color preferences and determine people’s tastes and judgments over a certain period. Their application is typically not restricted to particular objects, contexts, or aesthetic conventions and is unconstrained by any functional, symbolic, or formal influences. Therefore, even colors with inherently negative symbolic meanings or connotations can become collectively preferred for a certain period. Individuals as well as society more generally perceive color trends as an articulation of “the predominant taste orientation.” Anyone who adopts the trend demonstrates that she/he is open-minded, modern, and a member of an ideal (ized) peer group representing the Zeitgeist. In the end, using color trends also relieves individuals of mental strain. Those who adopt them avoid stylistic confrontation and guarantee that their choices meet approval [1].

Cyclic Recurrence of Color Trends

Several studies [2, 3, 4], which analyzed the rise and fall of collective color preferences in architecture, interior design, and consumer goods during several decades, suggest a cyclic recurrence of color trends. Oberascher [5] points out that color trends must repeat in the long run because the potential gamut for color innovation is limited by the natural boundaries of the perceptual color space. New colors in a strict sense cannot be invented. Technological progress, however, may produce new color appearances. Based on an analysis of predominant color trends in furnishing and interior design in Germany and Austria between 1972 and 1992, he suggests a general model of the cyclic recurrence of collective color preferences. One explanation why certain color groups and  color combinations are more likely to be repeated than others might be that the aesthetical evaluation and appreciation of color groups and combinations in general are determined by universal laws of perception and Gestalt psychology. But other factors may play a role. The emergence and spread of new collective color preferences are most probably rooted in a basic human desire (evolutionary, biological, neurophysiological, psychological, sociological) for change, alteration, renewal, and innovation. People’s readiness to engage in new and unfamiliar colors increase over time as they become satiated with one trend. Since no new colors can be invented but only selected from the existing perceptual color gamut, those color groups and combinations that have been out of use for the longest time will appear novel. For young people these colors are new; for the older generations, they are a (re)contextualization of their color memories. The model of the cyclic recurrence of collective color preferences does not claim to predict color trends but might be used as a strategic tool for product marketing and management particularly in the furniture, furniture supply, and building material industry.

The Emergence of Color Trends

Historically, fashion has always set its rules and its trends based on a top-down pyramid approach. Every civilized society in its history has been able to use a large number of dye materials to color fibers, textiles, and leather in multiple shades. Where dye materials for some specific colors were lacking, international trade made up for it since they were imported, becoming widespread [6]. It can thus be said that no major color area has been neglected in the evolution of the trends and fashion of upper classes, but some color ranges have prevailed over others from time to time based on aesthetical, symbolic, and social choices imposed by the ruling classes.

A swing in trends occurred as ready-to-wear (prêt-a-porter) clothes and design became more widespread, and consumption democratization developed. Some spontaneous bottom-up trends have emerged since the 1960s. These have affected fashion, resulting in a combined top-down and bottom-up approach that is still underway, and it currently seems that street fashion is predominant [7].

Instruments to identify and anticipate market requirements were needed in order to properly respond to the new industrial organization of textile, clothing, furnishings, and design industries.

This has led to color trend forecast agencies, where teams of researchers (consisting of stylists, designers, sociologists, psychologists, and market experts) started to analyze consumption and behaviors and to anticipate color trends, ahead of the industrial manufacturing schedule required (2 years).

Not Only Colors, but Also Range Quality

Since then, color trends have renewed their offer season after season, not by changing major color families (red, yellow, green, etc.) but by the “quality of their range” (soft, bright, pastel, dusty, clear, dark, etc.). In the 1990s, surface finishing too became an element inherent to color as it changed its look, value, and “style.”

Historically, color trends have encapsulated the “spirit” of the time for many years. Their likelihood of meeting consumption demand results from the fact that they are based on the identification of color trends that are already found in the market, that the industry has adopted, and that the consumer has found within a predefined and limited available range, thus confirming relevant forecasts [8].

What Are Trends?

Trends are the expression of fashion themes and an indication of consumption and behavioral styles. They play two roles: on the one hand they are a monitoring tool for fashion and its multiple manifestations, and on the other hand, they anticipate and express current social orientations.

The life span of one or more trends on the market is very uncertain, from one season to several years.

The emergence of trends depends on historical, social, political, and cultural factors, which develop in the general public regularly and cyclically and influence almost a whole decade.

However, some very successful trends can come forth in a strange and sudden manner, as a result of occasional factors that have become very popular at a national or international level (a film, an exhibition, a music phenomenon, a product launch, the opening of new shops, some successful places open to the public, etc.).

Individualization of Color Trends

Today’s global market, where goods move freely, is unstable and difficult to control because many style orientations coexist simultaneously. Comparative analyses of major color trends often highlight dissimilarities in results, which are due to both the target and the impossibility to develop truly accurate forecasts. That is why color trends no longer play the role of universal consumption indicators; instead, they now act as a particularized anticipation of and focus on the themes intended for a specific market sector.

Companies use color trends to choose corporate colors for communication purposes as they try to develop a visible business identity, based on colors allowing them to stand out from competitors and to take advantage of mainstream tendencies by means of season’s colors. Albeit part of the general aesthetic framework, these color trends mark corporate choices and enable consumers to invent their own style through individual combinations.

This is the result of the current historical moment, known as “post-fashion,” where there are unclear and often contradictory signs and a fragmented coexistence of all types of different opportunities and orientations.

Creation of Color Trends

Color trends result from a research on ongoing social, cultural, and consumption changes, combining the quality and quantity data collected in order to develop an expected scenario.

The colors suggested by color trends have to play an intense and immediate communication role and must represent first a lifestyle than a consumption style one can identify oneself with. They must belong to the present time, be the continuation of the past, and prove to be able to anticipate the future.

As a matter of fact, the pursuit of novelties and changes cannot deviate much from tradition, from what consumers have shown to appreciate. Consequently, every color trend will contain some reassuring references in line with the latest successes and some innovations embodying the change.

Work Phases

Pompas points out the following work phases [9]:
  • Registration of the latest most successful color trends

  • Monitoring and insight of ongoing changes, based on a development process approach

  • Collection of quantity and quality data on ongoing changes and their translation into dominant concepts

  • Development of a scenario consisting of several images

  • Selection of emerging shades and secondary shades

  • Organization of a color range or  palette that is consistent with dominant concepts

  • Suggested  color matching, consisting in  color combinations

Why to Be Aware of Trends

Musso points out about the need to be aware of trends

In the many areas of application and activities that involve the use of color, for instance, in industrial and textile design and in fashion design, only the creators of products who have the right information at the right time can act with advantages in the business environment.

There are many factors that need to be considered when predicting future design and color trends. There is an evolution from one season to the next; there are also important social and economic forces at work. One of the most important factors is the current and future projection of the socioeconomic conditions of the target consumer. Having a clear perception of changes, increasingly accelerated, it is possible to react quickly to the most demanding challenges of today’s world.

The need arises from the spread now possible, at all levels, with simultaneity in all parts of the world, of the most important events. Due to the globalization of the marketplace, these factors are not as segregated by region as in the past. Of course, there are still major cultural influences that affect the interpretation of these factors.

Every new color or design trend starts because of a new influence or change of value perceived by the social group affected by these influences.

There are many reasons for the change of values, one of the most important being a shift in the emotional process of seeing and experiencing these changes. Visual and emotional influences, changes in economic and social circumstances, and perception of new life styles affect the way in which people act in front of design and color. In a global environment of snapshot communications and accelerated pace of social and cultural changes, trends are constantly evolving to reflect those changes. Several organizations and color trend advisory services dedicate themselves to analyze the factors that will influence consumers’ emotions. Their members track, analyze, predict, and direct colors and design of the consumer world. These groups base their color and design forecast on trends in fine arts, global events, technological advancements, economical and political circumstances, cultural facts, etc. and on the impact that these combined factors may have on the consumer. The media, opinion makers, specialized fairs, and producers deal with the effects of disclosing these facts and act on the choice of designs and colors. Based on this conceptualization, a new product will come, and it will be suitable to the market. If the designers have accurately identified and understood the customer, they will respond correctly to its own market.

Lifestyle Proposal

In 1985, the style of the products began to take into account the lifestyles [10].

The Advanced Communication Center, in France, divided the French population into five socio-lifestyles which then grew in number, diversifying. This study took into account:
  • The places of residence of consumers

  • Their behavior and preferences for the indoor environment: materials, objects, furniture, colors, and patterns

  • The places where they buy or do their shopping

  • The type of information used, newspapers, magazines, television and among other parameters

These data would compose an extremely useful tool to manage the offer of products.

Trends and Revivals

Particularly in the beginning of the twenty-first century, the succession of rapid changes in short and accelerated periods became relevant, leading to the overlapping of different revivals. The change in the nature of the geopolitical and cultural relationship impacts on the representation of the world, in the evolution of the conception and circulation of signs representing a moment. It is therefore essential the conceptual updating of the cultural and aesthetic debate, without neglecting the political, economic, and anthropological impact. It is of great interest therefore to assess how the arts of the image are carriers of elements of exchange, while it is necessary to avoid the danger of uniformity.

To propose a revival involves knowing the reality and the facts that gave rise and its implications. Taking only the outward, without understanding their reasons, leads to superficiality, the mere repetition. Investigating the roots pushes to motivation that is spilling into creativity.

Each of the decade 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s showed its spirit in a complex and multifarious use of color as a clear expression of the social premises of the time in western countries [11]. These trends are reflected in the product catalogs of European and American textile mills and department stores from 1970 to 2013, as well as in the main trade fairs such as Heimtextil (international trade fair for home textiles and commercially used textiles in Frankfurt), Star and Macef (Milan), Paritex and Maison et Objet (Paris), and among others, from 1971 to 2013.

The early 1970s kept the euphoric creativity of the 1960s as regards style. In 1973, however, great structural changes were brought about by the deep crude oil crisis which hit the markets and the economic structures. A feeling of uncertainty and lack of stability got hold of society. In the field of design, all this resulted in going back to a well-known past in search of the security purported in the everlasting values, either by retrieving old documents or manipulating eclectically their iconography. The desire of running away from reality was shown by all sorts of romantic attitudes such as revivals and retro-proposals. Design turned back to small-scale motifs, geometrical or flowery. The fleurettes were monotonously added to all surfaces, and liberty style succeeded in west European countries. The predominant colors accompanying this stylistic shock ranged from medium to dark, grayish colors, non-saturated colors, earthy colors, grayish browns and greens.

The 1980s was the decade of appearance. The utmost egocentricity together with hedonism and obsession for social status was the more significant features in the group engaged in a blind and swift consumerism. It was the yuppie’s decade, the decade of the self. The expanding social class was then the new bourgeoisie of the managerial elite, fond of showing off their success and their higher social position. The new style was sophisticated and luxurious, using sumptuous materials and emphasizing the quality in aesthetics. The essential feature was the pluralism, the multiplicity of styles, and the increasing variety of alternatives. The taste of the consumers was the result of their social status, keyed in their lifestyle and in the need of belonging to a social cultural group. It was a decade of a remarkable awareness of color, and thus color was conscientiously made the protagonist. High tech embraced industrial objects made of metal, glass, Formica, and plastic. Black made its appearance, stepping into the picture on its own, or associated with white and red, as well as with metallic colors, silver and gold, so as to emphasize the luxury effect [10, 12].

In the 1990s, the end of the Cold War brought about hope for the end of the nuclear menace. A new trend of thought set forward a deeper awareness of the environment in danger as much as greater concern about nature. Nature and its preservation became one of the main issues to deal with as well as a concern for health care and family life. A new conservative attitude was the most remarkable trend of this period, giving way to substantial subjects as ecology, the protective home, the enhancement of native roots and traditions, and the return to reassuring values. The new commandments were avoiding pollution, the efficient use of means and resources, the importance of quality instead of quantity, and the respect for nature. Attention was drawn in special toward well-done high-quality work and craftsmanship. The search for true moral values was shown by the use of noble materials, and, in the choice of color, the main one was that of unbleached linen. The favorite colors were those of different types of wood, earth, grain, cereals, straw, sand, stone, and grayish colors that seemed to be worn out. Everyone celebrated nature in their own way: by means of choice of material, color, or subject [13, 14].

Trends for the House of the Century

The trends take into account the desire to expend more time at home, the valorization of empty space and customization of the environment, and the awareness for the preservation of natural resources. The market increasingly focused on products for the home. The decoration is freer, and nothing is definitive. Furniture is polyvalent, with fewer objects. The consumer seeks welfare, looks for quality, and wants a more simplified life. Pragmatism and health are at the order of the day.

In the new millennium, the house gains a new dimension. Tradition and modernity coexist in harmony. Earth, fire, and water are the three basic elements inspiring styles and colors. Individuality and daily rituals of life point the products chosen [14].

The configuration of a universal culture becomes a fundamental sign. The process of globalization tends to the unification of symbols, to the disappearance of diversity. It is therefore crucial to defend the values of each culture, using its imprint, to highlight its mark in every corner of the world, each time the triumph of cosmopolitanism can delete it.



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Architecture, Design and Urbanism, Color Research ProgramUniversity of Buenos AiresBuenos AiresArgentina
  2. 2.MilanItaly
  3. 3.FH Joanneum University of Applied Sciences, GrazSalzburgAustria