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True Colors

Making it with the shades.

Ever stop to consider the role color can play in the world of trends? Why, for instance, did the yellows and avocado greens of the 1970s enjoy a comeback in the 1990s? And what about purple's recent rein?

So many questions, so many shades of gray. It's precisely this curiosity, though, that led us to interview Ron Budny, chairman of the Color Marketing Group's International Design Directions committee. Budny, who also owns an Indianapolis-based interior design firm, admits to an acute color awareness. It's this very sense of hue that we wished to plum--er, plumb.

Entrepreneur:Why are companies concerned with color today?

Ron Budny: It's come to the forefront because companies are working [harder] at making their products unique. In the carpet industry, for instance, it used to be that you never offered anything other than beige, brown or gray--now there are hundreds of colors available. People have become more comfortable with the use of color; they're not as intimidated by it.

Q:Can color make or break a product?

A: Oh, yes. [Look at the color usage] in some of today's kitchen appliances. There are orange, chartreuse, yellow and aquamarine toasters, garlic presses and so on. These things are selling wildly because the shots of color [brighten up] kitchen counters.

Q:Can you think of an occasion when color worked against a product?

A: There was a color called `raspberry puree' that [was introduced in] plumbing fixtures six or seven years ago. It came on with a vengeance--and died fast.

Q:Is it true a robust economy actually increases the demand for bright colors?

A: Yes. When things are up and people feel good, they're more willing to take a chance [on riskier colors]; things are bright and cheery. When the economy is sluggish, however, people tend to play it safe.

Q:How do you keep up on color trends?

A: I read a lot and see what's going on. Art exhibits, for instance, can be very strong in influencing upcoming colors. High-end fashion [is another] starting point. Color trends usually begin on the runway, and when they hit the rack at Kmart, you know you have total market saturation.

Q:What color trends do you see emerging?

A: [The trend toward] spirituality has brought about beautiful colors that are very soft, neutral and layered. Lots of sheer fabrics-- like ice blue, white, and yellow--that are layered one on top of the other are becoming popular.

Q:Is the dawning of a new millennium triggering any color trends?

A: The colors that have been forecast for the millennium belong in the gray family. [It's a reflection of] the struggle between something new and the fear of the unknown.

Q:How can entrepreneurs stay up to date on color trends?

A: Just walk through a mall and look at the shops. Divorce yourself from shopping for something and simply look for colors. Go to all kinds of stores. [Look at] all kinds of products.

Q:Are businesses savvier today in terms of understanding the significance of color?

A: The successful companies are.

Next: Flash! »
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This article was originally published in the May 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: True Colors.

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