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Podcast April 26, 2021

The Power of Color in Design: How the Rippling Effects of Trends will Change the Future

Host Gabe Duverge is joined by Kerry Rowe, a color, material, and finish designer and owner of Kerry Rowe Design to discuss the unique effects that color has on our daily lives, our workplaces and much more. Rowe offers insights into the psychology of color and how the latest color trends will affect design in the years to come.

Kerry Rowe, a color, material, and finish designer is guest speaker in LINAK podcast about the Power of Colour in Design

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Gabe Duverge: Hello and welcome to the LINcast, a LINAK podcast, with conversations exploring the latest research and innovation behind actuation solutions. We're improving people's quality of life and working environments through smooth and reliable movement. My name is Gabe Duverge and today I'm very excited to be joined by Kerry Rowe. She's a color, material, and finish designer and owner of Kerry Rowe Design. We appreciate you taking your time with this us Kerry. Remotely, of course, given the special times that we live in. Thanks so much for joining us on the LINcast today.

Kerry Rowe: Thank you, Gabe. It's really nice to meet you and talk with you today.

Gabe Duverge: Absolutely. Today, we're going to be covering a very interesting topic. It's something that has an immense effect on people every day, businesses, cultures, and often things that we don't even realize. From when you're a kid in school and you get your test back, you see a lot of red marks on it, and you see a green light after a long wait in a car, color, it has an influence and it surrounds us. It can be a powerful tool and impact our behavior, mood and our thoughts. If I were to ask you what color you thought of when I said the word Coca-Cola, you would automatically think red. Businesses like Coca-Cola pay millions of dollars to create and protect the brands that are often built around their color. So this leads me to my first question for you, Kerry, where does the power of color stem from, and why does it play such an important role in our daily lives?

Kerry Rowe: Well, Gabe, we're visual human beings and we're immersed in color. The human response to color is deeply embedded in our personal associations and our cultural symbology. It's linked to basic survival skills.

For example, red is the color of survival and it signifies danger. It's the first color we perceive as babies. And just think about blood and fire and danger.

Purple is a color of great mystery and magic. And it's a color that the dye stuffs to create purple were very difficult to come by back in the day, thousands of years ago, and so it was a color that's associated with royalty and clergy, it was so costly to make. Purple also is a scientific color because it's a very powerful wavelength, one wavelength away from gamma and x-rays so that's maybe something we know in our subconscious.

Blue is a color of sky and water and has a lot of different meanings like think navy blue is a color of stability and strength. It's the color that is most often used in flags for nation states.

Gabe Duverge: Oh, that makes sense.

Kerry Rowe: Yeah, light blue is a color of peace and harmony, serenity, clarity. And then green is a color as human beings that we see the most shades of. And the scientific reason is we had to adapt as human beings to understand which plants were okay and not okay.

Green is the color of nature and rebirth and growth. And now is most associated with ecological concerns and dark green is also a color of stability and wealth and strength, think of the money, green money.

Gabe Duverge: Right.

Kerry Rowe: Whereas yellow is a color of the sunshine. So it in views warmth and happy thoughts. Orange is the color of vitality, which is also energy and, of course, fire. So those are the main color points.

Gabe Duverge: Yeah. And those, they offer an interesting idea... The one that popped out to me is you mentioned the navy blue and I didn't make that connection that you're right, the majority of countries have some kind of blue, like you would say, probably over 50% have some kind of level blue and even some countries that don't have that they have an attachment to it in general.

You're an expert that works with companies to build color palettes, you help with color material finishes. There must be a place that besides the psychology that some of these trends and some of these color ideas come from, where do they tend to begin? And where do you pull from for inspiration in color?

Kerry Rowe: That's pretty multifaceted. I want to start by just saying that color drives consumer decisions. And if a color is not right on a product, most consumers will dismiss that product immediately. So color is really important and therefore tracking and predicting color trends is a huge business. It's a fascinating thing. I think a lot of people, citizens, feel like color and style are very subjective when in fact trends and color decisions are deeply rooted in huge research and making it therefore much more objective. So, trends don't happen in a vacuum.

Trend forecasting is about getting into the heads of consumers and somewhat getting ahead of consumers and understanding what they see as culturally relevant. How are they influenced? What's driving them to feel certain ways? What's happening with your target audience or the world globally? What's happening globally, locally and personally with people worldwide? So, I break down and look at like what's happening in politics, socio economics, culture, lots of aspects and multi-layers to all these things, and then new scientific discoveries or technology discoveries. For example, in a down economy, we will always gravitate towards darker, more austere colors that imbue more of a safety and security, stability vibe.

Gabe Duverge: I've noticed that during the pandemic, I think some brands have shifted a little more towards more neutral tones definitely.

Kerry Rowe: Yeah. I think it's always easier to look back and see how were things done in the past and I think about after 9/11 in the United States, the colors that came on really fast were dark red and navy blue and brown became really huge right around that turn of the millennial. And that was all because we really needed to feel that safety and security. And I think we were just coming out of some crisis too. So, colors tend to be a little more subdued or a lot more in that case.

Okay. So there are also some other drivers besides looking at politics and socioeconomics and science. One of the really important things are what is happening in entertainment. The creative industry, by and large, they're producing shows, whether it's streaming shows or movies, live theater, we're not doing that right now, but museum exhibitions, those kinds of projects, the colorations or the art directions that are used in those definitely finds its way into color trends and color forecasting.

And then trends also, they evolve and take on a new life too. As time goes on something will get tired and it'll evolve into a new color or a new aspect. And there's the cyclical effect to things, what goes around comes around. So, there's no really formula for that, it could be 10 years or some 90s design and color things are in right now.

Gabe Duverge: Of course, yeah.

Kerry Rowe: Prior to that, it was the 80s or some colors like earth tones and stuff from the 70s that are pretty important right now, too. But they usually come and they come back more with a twist, not exactly as they were before.

Gabe Duverge: Interesting. It's amazing to think of all the different colors and trends and you were talking about trends and time, and I've definitely noticed that how some ideas, not even just in colors, but et cetera, how they come back and play a part in predicting the future regarding color and how it's used. What are you seeing in the trends of today and tomorrow and how they might be impacting us in the next few years?

Kerry Rowe: Well, I create a color and trend forecast presentation every year for my clients. So the 2021 presentation I worked on for this year, I really focused on three primary drivers and they're science and technology, health and healing and equity. All three of these are huge topics, super complicated, very multifaceted, leading down some pretty divergent paths in terms of the meaning and the impact. And they also won't be short-lived drivers, like sustainability these are more movements, not trends in themselves, but it's how will they affect trends and also what my customers need to be paying attention to. So I will explore these visually because I'm a visual person and colorfully through these three drivers and how they will influence color and the commercial interiors.

So just to introduce and break down these three categories that I've explored in my presentation, the first of the trends is called the beyond. And this is our response to global problems. The whole presentation really is about escapism. And in the beyond, we are trying to escape our global problems, of which there are many. We escape by looking beyond our earthly surroundings to outer space and the deep sea and even our subconscious. So there have been incredible advancements in science and technology that have garnered a lot of public interest lately. I'm just thinking of SpaceX and the Mars explorations, that's all really exciting. It's taking our minds off of some other heavy topics right now. And it has really re-energized the public's viewpoint around all of the exploration in outer space. There's also concurrently some really interesting findings in deep sea exploration and then concurrently, but also related, we are really looking inward spiritually as another vehicle for escape.

Beyond color trend.

So the colors for this trend of the beyond are heavy and complex and very dark, like outer space or the DC, almost very black in aesthetic. So purples, dark purples, and indigos, remember those equate to spirituality and healing. Rust colors, deep reds, that all relates to Mars and what's exciting and happening there. And the beyond colors are really defined by the absence of light. So if you think about that. The second trend is what I'm calling avatar. And this is our way to escape and our response to personal discomfort. It is about escaping our daily realities by shifting the perceptions of ourselves.

Gabe Duverge: Right.

Kerry Rowe: This is really embodied by Gen Z and their embrace of technology, in particular social media and video games. I know my son, he goes by him, he, but his avatar on Fortnite is a female. And he just is totally up with that. And he likes to buy all these skins and do fun things with that but essentially...

Gabe Duverge: I appreciate you mentioning Fortnite for the first time in the LINAK podcast history.

Kerry Rowe: It's made me like... I'm gritting my teeth because this is what drives him. Talk about a driver.

Gabe Duverge: Yeah.

Kerry Rowe: Yeah. And also filters like on Instagram and Snapchat, et cetera, those types of effects were previously inaccessible to the average person, let alone kids. You had to have expensive software or a special camera lens or what have you. But these have allowed people to very quickly and just cheaply access a new persona online.

Avatar color trend.

And the colorations for these are very bright and emotive, expressive, creative, it speaks to our resilience and our drive for equity and inclusion because everyone is this equal playing field. The colors are verging on neon, genderless and very vibrant.

The third trend that I explore is called less, like less is more. And this is our response to overstimulation and over-consumption as we really escape our mountains of material goods. The rise of the less is more movement has been accelerated during the pandemic lockdown as we are inundated and realized I got a lot of stuff and it has forced us to reevaluate and ponder what is truly important and saying no to clutter, selecting higher quality goods that have meaning, or that are just useful. And at the foundation of this is our saying no to clutter and our rejection of this throw away culture, that we've been in the cycle for several decades, really.

Less color group

Gabe Duverge: Right. Definitely.

Kerry Rowe: Very much related to this is the death of fast fashion, which was already in process. Again, the pandemic has accelerated this. We're embracing simple pleasures and by going outdoors, we're embracing nature. And this whole aesthetic embodies natural and calming elements, elements with flaws. The color palette, it's pretty colorful, but it's made up of more muted and softened colors, the colors are rooted in nature and our desire to just have a calm and cozy, simpler surroundings.

Less color group

Gabe Duverge: Definitely. That sounds really interesting. And I think it's definitely something that I think everyone listening has probably seen in their daily lives and routines and it's having an impact, both marketing that you're seeing on, you mentioned, streaming shows, everything from streaming shows to ads you see on Instagram. I definitely identified with each of those trend categories that you mentioned, and I think we're seeing those in all facets of life.

And I know being LINAK and who we are dealing in the office furniture industry, we're very interested into how this immediate future that's coming, that people are starting to make their ways to going back in the office, maybe in a more flexible fashion, or they're still working from home, but also meeting again with people in the workplace, how do you see these trends or these colors standing out? What do you think people will start to see, color wise, in the workplace and the individual offices of the future?

Kerry Rowe: Well, I think these three color palettes and trends definitely have application in both offices and in our residential, so commercial and residential settings. The beyond color palette, if you remember, it's the dark heavy, purple laden palette that maybe it's a little somber for an office, but if you can think about it, it's rich velvets on a piece of furniture, maybe a lounge piece with a darker background painted that may more applicable to residential applications. But avatar with the bright pops of color, that is going to be used to delineate or define zones within a commercial space, within an office space. And if you think about going back to the office, it's going to be really clear what you do, where you do it, and everyone's going to need to feel safe. And we know that when we go back, it's going to be for collaborative activities.

So, zones will be defined by colors. Color is going to be a way-finder and the avatar, some of the brights can really signify here's what you do here, here's what you do here. Avatar is also applied because of the special effects and the neon vibrancy applied to lighting and LED lighting effects and translucent materials that just defy divide space.

We've seen all this plexiglass stuff going up, but that was a quick iteration to get those out. But in the future, we'll see those screens will come with the color options and there'll be printed. And some of the colors, they can really change your mood for a happy feeling or more motivation and so forth. And as the year progresses offices will open up again, but we just, again, need to look at what's going to make people feel safe. And the less is more color palette is very soft and calming, and will probably have the broadest application for office interiors and just that calming element. And we also need to feel like everything's going to be cleanable or not feel it needs to be cleanable. So those are some ways.

Gabe Duverge: Definitely. It would be very interesting to see. Being in the work that we are, we're always interested in what companies are making things look like, and I'm very interested in seeing how the offices, the future look and what the color categories look like in that sense.

Kerry Rowe: I think we'll talk about that.

Gabe Duverge: It would be interesting for sure. As a company going over your categories, I think people who are familiar with us would definitely agree that we relate to the less trend category, especially given our Danish heritage. We are all about the Hygge mindset, perfecting simplicity and that definitely integrates into our culture in a variety of aspects.

So, those natural calming colors and you mentioned you're focusing on blending both an aesthetic appeal with functionality, and that makes a lot of sense to us. We hear a lot of things about minimalism and that perspective, why do you think that trend is so important with people and really resonating with them right now?

Kerry Rowe: I mean, the muted tones of the less palette, for sure, by the way, do relate to the Hygge aesthetic. And it is the simplicity, it's the being drawn to natural elements, the inherent textural but open vibe that presents. The less palette is really about bringing some natural elements in to create layering and texture without being overly heavy handed in terms of texture. They are light-filled spaces, but they move away from the antiseptic white.

So white has softened and becomes more of a lived in white and the natural materials embody that coziness that's so important and it includes materials like wood, rattan and caning and natural textiles. I mean, I don't want to just say textiles because textiles, there's mostly polyester or polymer textiles. So layering with that simple pleasures and then that relates, of course, to all the cooking and crafting and gardening that we've been doing for many years coming around, but has been accelerated, like so many things, during this point in time. So just the connection to some of the going back to relearning some basic skills.

Gabe Duverge: No, definitely it makes sense. And where you mentioned about the zones and that connection to nature and collaborative, I think, there's definitely opportunities. One thing about this point in time is that being outside has been so important. So I think bringing some of that into collaborative spaces is important for us in general and then just moving forward, I'm very interested and it goes back to what I'm interested in seeing in the future of the office.

This discussion has been great because it's all about the layers of impact that color can have and the number of decisions that really goes behind that. I think when a person sees something and they see a color and they might not think all the different reasons why that color was selected, what that means for them and that there's many layers on top of layers that build that trend together.

Each choice that we make, it can have an impact on a space that is being created and created the emotions that people have when they're in those spaces. But as trends, they come and go and it seems that they can also create many challenges for people and companies and organizations who are trying to keep up. The more that is created around a specific trend, the more risks that it has to become irrelevant. So where do you see the future of color trends going, and I think specifically inside of the sustainability realm? I know we were talking specifically about this culture of clutter. You mentioned before that you're very interested in fashion and the death of fast fashion, how does sustainability meld with color to be a focus and how can we be better about that in the future?

Kerry Rowe: Yeah. Gabe, we're shifting away from this throwaway culture and it will absolutely affect the trend cycle in terms of how frequent things shift. I mean, with our world connected globally and digitally, we have more inputs now than we ever have, but we're still producing tangible products and that cycle can only be sped up so fast. I think individual colors themselves will change slower. The change will happen slower over time. The change will happen more in terms of what color combinations are happening, how they're combined or what they're combined with because with the fashion industry and even commercial interiors is, to some large degree, a fashion industry, we want the newest, the best, and that doesn't really go hand in hand with sustainability, because you're throwing away something just because it's out or whatever, it may still work, but we are talking about more updating some key elements to freshen up a space or a pallet, or even an outfit, you've heard of going shopping in your closet.

You're seeing this huge shift in the fashion industry that's happened this year with new campaigns like the less but better, which many top designers have signed onto. And this seeks to rewire the entire fashion industry by significantly shifting and abbreviating their runway show calendar, which has gotten completely out of control and not just the shows, but the launch cycles. And so they've combined menswear and women's wear partly because gender identity, they need to get with those times too. And they've abbreviated and gotten rid of some of the fringe calendar items like pre-fall. They just really want to go down to one or two runway shows a year because those runway shows create so much waste. And then they're also creating and launching a runway show and then the products don't hit the stores for six months, which gives ample opportunity for knockoffs to happen.

So that's a big part of this too. And then all of those things, of course, are subject to aggressive markdowns. And so the desired outcome would be to increase creativity by compressing the calendar so knockoffs aren't happening as much. Less waste improved customer interaction and higher profits for the bottom line. But in our realm of commercial interiors, quality and performance attributes are, I would say, more important than ever before, where longevity is reemerging as a value attribute as it once was. And lower cost products may not always be the best choices anymore, maybe we're realizing...

Gabe Duverge: Right.

Kerry Rowe: Because there is a cost to those. And we need to be transparent about where things are made, how they're made, the triple bottom line. All of that is really coming into very clear focus now.

Gabe Duverge: You're absolutely right. And I think someone listening could definitely take something from that and know that it's something that should be considered in the future. And I'm very interested in seeing how that changes and how adaptable that we can be to these changes and moving forward. But this has been fantastic, Kerry. There's so much more to color and I'm sure I speak for a lot of people listening, who, as I mentioned, didn't realize all the layers that go into color and how that affects our daily lives.

So I want to thank you so much for joining us today and that about wraps up our episode on the power of color. I want to thank everyone who's either listening or watching currently for tuning into another episode of the LINcast. As always, if you're interested in more of design topics, we have plenty of content for you at

And did want to let you know, we have a little bit of announcement. There's a new way you can listen to the podcast and you can download and follow us on all of your favorite podcast platforms now, Apple, Spotify, Google, and SoundCloud. We look forward to talking to you next time, please follow us and take care.


Kerry Rowe, a color, material, and finish designer and owner of Kerry Rowe Design.

About Kerry Rowe

Kerry’s 25 year career is steeped in the nuances of color, material and finish, from philosophy and perception to design and manufacturing. As a consultant, Kerry helps customers develop CMF strategies that fit their varied and individual needs. Her broad industry experience includes color palette ideation, textile styling, trend forecasting, showroom design direction and product and project management. Kerry is naturally curious, observant and perceptive, skilled in balancing business needs with culturally relevant aesthetics.

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