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Podcast 26 April 2021

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

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

Kerry Rowe, a colour, 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 colour, material, and finish designer and owner of Kerry Rowe Design. We appreciate you spending your time with 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 realise. From when you're a kid at 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, colour, it has an influence and it surrounds us. It can be a powerful tool and impact our behaviour, mood and our thoughts. If I were to ask you what colour 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 colour. So this leads me to my first question for you, Kerry, where does the power of colour 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 colour. The human response to colour is deeply embedded in our personal associations and our cultural symbology. It's linked to basic survival skills.

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

Purple is a colour of great mystery and magic. And it's a colour 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 colour that was associated with royalty and clergy, it was so costly to make. Purple is also a scientific colour 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 the colour of the sky and water and has a lot of different meanings, like navy blue is a colour of stability and strength. It's the colour that is most often used in flags for nation states.

Gabe Duverge: Oh, that makes sense.

Kerry Rowe: Yeah, light blue is a colour of peace and harmony, serenity, clarity. And then green is a colour 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 colour of nature and rebirth and growth. And now is most associated with ecological concerns and dark green is also a colour of stability and wealth and strength, think of the money, green money.

Gabe Duverge: Right.

Kerry Rowe: Whereas yellow is the colour of sunshine. So it reflects warmth and happy thoughts. Orange is the colour of vitality, which is also energy and, of course, fire. So those are the main colour 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 who works with companies to build colour palettes, you help with colour material finishes. There must be a place that besides the psychology that some of these trends and some of these colour ideas come from, where do they tend to begin? And where do you pull from for inspiration in colour?

Kerry Rowe: That's pretty multifaceted. I want to start by just saying that colour drives consumer decisions. And if a colour is not right on a product, most consumers will dismiss that product immediately. So colour is really important, which is why tracking and predicting colour trends is a huge business. It's a fascinating thing. I think a lot of people, citizens, feel like colour and style are very subjective when in fact trends and colour decisions are deeply rooted in huge research, therefore making it 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 colours 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 things were done in the past and I think about after 9/11 in the United States, the colours that came on really fast were dark red and navy blue and brown became really huge right around that turn of the millennium. 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, colours 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 is what is happening in entertainment. The creative industry, by and large, they're producing shows, whether it's streaming shows or movies, live theatre, 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 find their way into colour trends and colour 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 colour or a new aspect. And there's the cyclical effect to things, what goes around comes around. So, there's no real formula for that, it could be 10 years or some 90s design and colour things are in right now.

Gabe Duverge: Of course, yeah.

Kerry Rowe: Prior to that, it was the 80s or some colours 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 colours and trends and you were talking about trends and time, and I've definitely noticed how some ideas, not even just in colours, but et cetera, how they come back and play a part in predicting the future regarding colour 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 colour and trend forecast presentations 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 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 colourfully through these three drivers and how they will influence colour and 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 is really 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-energised 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.

DESK Colour Pod Beyond

So the colours 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 colours, deep reds, that all relates to Mars and what's exciting and happening there. And the beyond colours 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.

DESK Color Pod Avatar

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 colours 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 realised 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.

DESK Colour Pod Less Green

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 colour palette, it's pretty colourful, but it's made up of more muted and softened colours, the colours are rooted in nature and our desire to just have calm and cosy, simpler surroundings.

DESK Colour Pod Less Cloth

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 the 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 back to 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 colours standing out? What do you think people will start to see, colourwise, in the workplace and the individual offices of the future?

Kerry Rowe: Well, I think these three colour palettes and trends definitely have application in both offices and in our homes, so commercial and residential settings. The beyond colour palette, if you remember, it's the dark heavy, purple-laden palette, maybe it's a little sombre 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 colour, 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 colours. Colour 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 colour options and they'll be printed. And some of the colours, they can really change your mood to 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 colour 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 colour 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 colours 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 cosiness that's so important and it includes materials like wood, rattan and cane 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 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 which, like so many things, has been accelerated, 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 approach, 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 colour can have and the number of decisions that really goes behind that. I think when a person sees something and they see a colour and they might not think of all the different reasons why that colour 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 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 organisations 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 colour trends going, and I think specifically inside 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 colour 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 throw-away culture and it will absolutely affect the trend cycle in terms of how frequently things shift. I mean, with our world connected globally and digitally, we have more inputs now than we ever before, but we're still producing tangible products and that cycle can only be sped up so fast. I think individual colours themselves will change at a slower pace. The change will happen more slowly over time. The change will happen more in terms of what colour 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 latest, 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 of 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 womenswear 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 realising...

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 we can be to these changes and moving forward. But this has been fantastic, Kerry. There's so much more to colour and I'm sure I speak for a lot of people listening, who, as I mentioned, didn't realise all the layers that go into colour 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 colour. 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 design topics, we have plenty of content for you at

And I did want to let you know, we have a little bit of an announcement. There's a new way you can listen to the podcast and you can download and follow us on all of your favourite 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 colour, material, and finish designer and owner of Kerry Rowe Design.

About Kerry Rowe

Kerry’s 25-year career is steeped in the nuances of colour, 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 colour 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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