Color Consistency: Why You Need to be a Color Nerd
By: Theresa Christine
“I’m a color nerd,” Adrián Fernández admitted proudly on stage at Food & Beverage Innovation Forum 2018 (FBIF 2018).And while that might sound weird at first, with Adrian, it makes total sense—after all, he is the General Manager of Pantone. And for the success of a brand and its packaging, it’s important that you as a designer become a color nerd, too.
No doubt, you’ve picked up a book of Pantone colors before and selected the key parts to a brand or packaging: the primary, secondary, supporting, and accents. But from the design side of things into pre-production and production, things can get lost in color translation.
Adrián explained five different levels of color selection. “The first is purely visual, usually with a brand style guide. The next stage is one that has a little assistance, usually using the Pantone matching system to try and achieve accuracy.
“The decision then moves from subjective to objective with node quality assurance, followed by workflow connectivity. This is where you’re making sure everything comes together, all the way to the printer. And then finally is the appearance—not just the color itself, but how it looks in regards to texture, gloss, and translucency.”
Brands start in the first stage, but Adrián commented that’s where many of them also stop. “They are usually just looking to see if it matches, and then they’re done and simply say, ‘It’s good enough.’”
Eyeing it, guessing, hoping, and settling for almost the right color doesn’t work though; in fact, it’s almost always worse in the long run. “It’s poor quality color consistency,” he said, “and that comes across as poor quality.”
Whether it’s among different products in a line or different runs of an item, a slightly lighter blue, or a less vibrant green may not seem all that terrible—especially when time is limited, and production needs to have happened yesterday. But when consumers don’t instantly recognize what they’re looking for, they will happily select one of the hundreds of other choices out there.
“Color accounts for 65 percent of product purchasing decisions,” added Adrián. “It has the single greatest influence on what consumers buy, and that can mean the difference between sold and on sale.”
Color is something we immediately see and connect with, and research has shown up to 90 percent of snap judgments on products is based solely on color. Think of that Tiffany blue or that Carlsberg green—these are colors consumers not only recognize but associate with certain emotions and experiences, like elegant sophistication or relaxing refreshment.
Adrián selected Coca-Cola as a brand which he believes truly nails the right hue every single time. “I have a bias,” he admitted, “because they’re a really good customer for us, but they are absolutely obsessive with their brand colors.
“You will see Coca-Cola in many places, and it is one of the best executions of a single color. They think about how it will look on a billboard, on uniforms, with their holiday campaigns, and they always do such an amazing job of staying truthful to that red.”
Imagine walking into a gas station to grab a quick drink. As you turn the corner in the back to see fridge door after fridge door, you can instantly see where to go if you want to grab a Coca-Cola.
This coveted status is what is called the “wall of color.” It means consumers have to think less—in fact, they don’t even have to read a single word to know what they’re getting.
“Color is more powerful than text in engaging the consumer and getting the message across,” reminded Adrián. “Reading is secondary—first is the color.”
Reproducing precisely the same color each time is something Pantone has been working towards, with PantoneLIVE and Pantone Simulator Prints. These tools help designers communicate to the pre-production and production team what colors will look like on certain materials, streamlining the entire process from ideation to getting a product on the shelf.
Because yellow isn’t going to look yellow at all on corrugated recycled board.
But what about brands that aren’t quite at the “wall of color” stage—ones which, instead, are just starting out? These are the brands that have yet to make a name for themselves and aren’t so concerned about being recognized yet but instead making the right initial impression.
“This is their chance to get that billboard effect to communicate their brand DNA,” Adrián advised. “If you have a brand with values of being fresh and natural, the colors need to work for that because it’s what immediately grabs someone’s attention.”
And because color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent according to a study at University of Loyola, Maryland, it means loyal customers will be back and not looking for a brand name, but simply a single shade of a color.
Bottom line? It’s time to get nerdy about color, since the choices you make as a designer matter even more than you think. And when done right, new brands and existing brands have something to aspire to.
The Dieline was invited to see Adrián Fernández present at the Food & Beverage Innovation Forum in Shanghai China, April 18th-20th. Learn more about FBIF here.
Theresa entered the world of design through The Dieline. With a background in writing and journalism, she has a passion for discovery and cultivating human connections. Her work for The Dieline is a constant journey to deeply understand all facets of the design process and to investigate what makes designers tick. Theresa's writing has taken her snorkeling in between the tectonic plates in Iceland, horseback riding through a rural Brazilian town, and riding an octopus art car at Burning Man with Susan Sarandon as part of a funeral procession for Timothy Leary (long story). When not writing, she is planning her next trip or taking too many pictures of her cat.