Color is an integral part of a product’s brand identity as it creates an emotional connection with consumers. It’s also one of the top key influences in consumer buying decision as it reflects self-expression and personality. Just as materials and finishes make a difference in the product design, so does color.
As such, the challenge then is how do you ensure the color is consistent with the product design and supports the aspiration of the product? This is a major hurdle for product designers and device makers alike – from choosing the right brand color to ensuring that the chosen color is matched and manufactured with consistent quality in various material finishes.
When I joined Microsoft’s Xbox industrial design team two years ago, discussions were already underway on the importance of CMF and the commitment to bring color in-house. Recognizing the opportunity to better streamline and manage the color process for Xbox and other devices, the team’s goal was to develop and manage color internally from the beginning to end — color trend to production parts.
This approach was driven by 3 key benefits: 1) managing internally, increase in efficiency in development and follow-through of color quality could be achieved from beginning to end 2) new product lines and offerings led to different materials and finishes to work with 3) belief that improved color development would increase customer delight and emotional connection to MS products.
We needed to build out a process to achieve true color ownership that would cover multiple materials and ensure the enhancement of MS product brands.
The Plan: Brand Color Management
To get started, we reviewed how color had been developed and managed for Xbox industrial design. While we already had some color processes in place, mostly managed by our outside supply base, we needed the new process to be flexible enough to handle multiple materials and provide exact color matching. In addition, we needed to invest in the right color equipment and create a proper color specification for our suppliers.
Bringing in some of my past CMF experience in automotive and consumer electronic industries to create a framework, we needed validation and expertise on the process and equipment. I turned to the leaders in color, X- Rite and Art Schmehling whom I had worked with in the consumer electronics industry. Art brought his experience in working with various industries and expertise on industry-leading color processes.
There is an important balance of using tolerances to make exact matches and over tolerance so that no Supplier can ever achieve the color. Understanding our color goals and process framework, Art’s expertise helped us develop color tolerances that started with initial color matches to the final production part tolerances.
Art showed how we could incorporate the Munsell color matching services into our color development process — we saw the advantages of this service and built into our process allowing us to:
- Work with experts to ensure exact color matching and measurement.
- Eliminate our suppliers having to make the match themselves, avoiding competitive or conflict of interests between our suppliers.
- Have flexibility to do large volume or single one-off color matches.
- Create standards that can be sent to multiple global supplies with formatted team color data information.
We then moved into the color management side of the plan, including bringing in Bob Olmsted, International Key Account Manager, who recommended color measurement technology. We purchased the i7 color spectrophotometers, gloss meters, and color booths for our industrial design studio. The last part of color management dealt with color specifications to create a corporate cosmetic specification document which allows us communicate our expectations more effectively to our supplier base. These elements help set the functional internal color development and management process.
Implementation: Brand Color Consistency
Today, we are at the implementation phase, working with internal industrial design teams and external supply base to introduce our new color process. We’re also working with our supply base to assess their color measuring equipment to better streamline and mirror ours. This will create a higher level of consistency in exchanging color data and communicating color properly.
We’ve already seen some great progress, including our recent work on Xbox One, helping to increase efficiency while ensuring the final processed colors accurately reflect the intended design direction. Building on the foundation Art and Munsell have helped us create, we look forward to further expanding our color process to ensure our products delight our customers.
About the Author
Patrick Gaule has over 17 years experience in applying color, materials and finishes to consumer electronic devices and automotive components. His main focus has been in developing new CMF technologies, then translating them into production programs. He is currently the Senior CMF Program Manager for Microsoft and holds a BS degree in Industrial Design + Art Minor from Western Michigan University.