Coloring the Future

Watch Per Nimer walk downLondon’sOxford Street or around Milan’s designer-label Quadrilatero d’Oro and he is more likely to get out his notebook than his wallet.  His scribbled notes might say ‘shiny’, ‘60s patterns’ or ‘soft’.  As AkzoNobel’s Design Manager, it’s Nimer’s job, along with his team at the Aesthetic Centre, to forecast future colour trends.  And the indicators for what will be the key colours come from all around; fashion to politics, music to movies, news events to the business world.

“It’s about not ruling anything out,” explains Nimer.  “Influences can come from any source.  It’s a question of ‘connecting the dots’ to get the whole picture.”  As an example, he says, you might read a newspaper article revealing that the numbers of women graduates is increasing.  Then you notice there are more women politicians and more women business leaders.  “So you start to think, is this trend viable for colour as well?  Could we see a leaning towards feminine colours and patterns?”

Colour is important because we live in a visual world.  Whether or not we are conscious of it  -  and often we’re not  -  colour affects our mood, our choices, our opinions.  “We select colours to support the times we live in,” says Nimer (think of all the psychedelic colours of the free love, free living, easygoing 1960s, for example).  “We look for reassurance.”

AkzoNobel not only has its own colour experts keeping their finger on the pulse but, once a year, invites a dozen of the world’s leading architects, designers and colour consultants to share ideas.  The result of their brainstorming is the Colour Envelope which is then translated into Trend Books, with colours appropriate for each market sector such as architecture, appliances and furniture.

One of the strong trends for 2009 was ‘Amateurism’.  Behind it lies the idea of personalising something, explains Nimer; the search for individualism in a fast-moving world.  “Nothing is more personal than something that’s hand-made.  It shows that someone has put time and thought into it.”  He points to the increase in hand-made knitwear as an example of this trend.  ‘Amateur’ colours to look out for are charmingly not quite perfect  -  a blue with a greenish hue, for example.

Linked to this amateur look is the ‘Responsive’ trend.  This gains strength each year as we recognise that we have to change the way we live if we are to sustain our planet.  Not surprisingly, its colours revolve around the green palette.  In similar vein, and as a reaction to the ‘having it all’ mentality of recent years, there’s a trend called ‘Sharing and Leasing’.  “This incorporates the idea of recycling objects and having respect for items; the idea that, in the end, you can’t actually own the planet,” says Nimer.  In colour terms, this means getting back to the basic primary palette of red, yellow and blue.

Other strong trends for the year were ‘Unlimited’  -  a wide range of clear, strong colours , influenced by the desire to create over-sized, iconic 21st-century structures such as the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing  -  and ‘Bizarre’, a modern take on the ‘naughty but nice’ concept and manifested in strong shades of plum and purple.