The Color Wheel Keeps Turning

A peek inside PPG’s Color Design Studio.


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color design

PPG Color Design Manager Vanessa Peterson (top left) runs the runs the company’s color design studio in Lake Forest, California. During the pandemic, PPG implemented virtual color design workshops for its clients.
Photo Credit: PPG

This past Sunday the world recognized International Color Day, a day that is celebrated on the equinox when there’s an equal amount of light and dark. The significance of the day calls attention to the many ways in which color touches our lives through all of the products we interact with on a daily basis. Perhaps no one thinks about this fact more than the people who actually design colors.

PPG Color Design Manager Vanessa Peterson runs the company’s color design studio in Lake Forest, California and oversees on-site color development exploration. She recently took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with Products Finishing about the business of making color.

PF: What goes into designing colors, especially when you’re thinking about different ways of applying the color such as powder coating or paint?

VP: Whenever designing a color, especially for a client, we want to make sure that we’re really engaged with the research behind that color. Why is the color trending? Why is the color going to be something that’s so important to the client that they feel comfortable investing so much time and effort into it? We really want to make sure that we’re hitting the persona of that color.

As a global company, PPG has the ability to reach out to our experts around the world and come up with the color trends that we see happening for the coming year. Gathering all of that information and doing all that research and seeing what’s happening culturally, socially, politically around the world really allows us to see why consumers may be attracted to a certain color. That research allows us to analyze color trends and understand the people that might be interested in buying these colors. We’re then able to go into a laboratory and formulate these colors, creating unique designs and surfaces.

PPG’s paints are sold in more than 70 countries, and we collaborate with our global color experts from around the globe to provide that fact-based approach to color trends and consumer preferences. While my team is specific to consumer electronics, the same color trends that we identify during our annual global color meeting cross over to architecture, automotive, aerospace and industrial coatings in general.

color design, liquid coatings

Vanessa Peterson is the Color Design Manager at PPG’s color design studio in Lake Forest, California.

PF: How long does it take for a color to go through this kind of development to reaching the end consumer?

VP: Once colors are formulated and have the approval from the client for a given product then it goes through a rigorous testing process that includes durability testing. From the time that the color is approved to the time that it hits the shelves could be anywhere from six to 18 months, depending on what the product is.

PF: What has to be taken into account when designing colors to be used for a wide array of technologies?

VP: With regards to color styling for consumer electronics, we have a lot of different specifications that a client might give us that we may need to adhere to.

For a lot of [devices], the possibility of WiFi interference may need to be taken into consideration during development. When colors are being formulated in the laboratory, we need to make sure that we’re hitting those guidelines from a technology standpoint. In addition to being beautiful, the coatings need to perform from a technical standpoint as well.

PF: What kind of challenges have color designers faced during the pandemic? I imagine working across a screen can pose a bit of a challenge given how colors might represent differently on any given device.

VP: Yes, definitely our biggest struggle is that it’s very hard to distinguish color through a screen — or really any type of correspondence that doesn’t involve seeing [the color] in person. One of the benefits of our color styling workshops pre-pandemic was the ability to be face to face with the clients and see colors in person.

Due to the pandemic, we’ve created virtual color workshops. This allows us to still virtually connect with our customers to find out what it is that they’re looking for instead of trying to convey that through email. We get to understand the mood, the feel and the direction that they want for their color, and then they are able to ship us the color reference that they want to use. That allows our team to go into the lab and provide them a variation of color directions based off the color reference that they send to us.

While it might take a little bit longer than if they were to be with us in person, we make the process as efficient and easy as possible.

PF: How does PPG celebrate International Color Day?

One of the things I love about PPG is that we have the ability to bring colors to life. We live by that model every single day. So, while we have plenty of social media content in support of International Color Day, this is also something we celebrate every day. We are color, and we embrace that!