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Humans respond to color: eighty-five percent of people say color is the primary reason they buy a certain product, according to research from the Pantone Color Institute. We respond to color emotionally and viscerally.

But how does color respond to you as a designer? Can you bend color to your design intentions?

A recent report from the CMO Council identified responsiveness as the new requirement for brand success. What is responsiveness? And how can you increase your responsiveness amidst the complex role you play as an artist and designer?

Responsiveness is the ability to quickly, efficiently and accurately make changes to your work based on changes in trend, customer feedback or needs. The designer is the gatekeeper to responsiveness. Designers can be more successful by responding to what’s going on in the market, making them more relevant by executing faster, more frequent changes to their lines. Another word for responsiveness that we hear a lot today is agility. You know you are using color with agility when you can make changes rapidly and confidently.

In order for teams to move as quick as fast fashion, communication has to be strong and specific. You can help by making communication among your team clearer and faster using common standards. I see that this capability is now increasingly valuable to designers demonstrating leadership and creating in a world of endless choices and variables.

Let’s look at what designers need to respond to, what gets in the way of responding quickly, and what you can do to become more responsive yourself as well as help your team grow in their capability to be more responsive, loosely taking some inspiration from David Bowie.

Four Sources of Changes

Trend and taste. Our world is ever-evolving. With every Fashion Week comes a new set of expectations to meet, a new palette of hot hues (and faux pas). Whether it’s a seasonal trend (the ubiquitous pumpkin spice) a color trend (like the Color of the Year: Greenery), or a sustainability trend (is this fabric upcycled?), the zeitgeist creates an impetus to update designs and stay current.

Physical materials. The ability to change your mind when you’ve found something better is always a key advantage. So, whether you change the fabric to drape differently, the cut to express your concept better, the color to reflect the new emotion you’re trying to capture, or the print because it’s just perfect, you need the ability to adapt in order to produce your designs according to your intentions, and quickly, across different materials. These are always changing, chasing trends.

Your customer and consumer base. The people who wear your designs expect to see new items regularly that are on trend. The faster you respond to seasonal, cultural, or color changes, the more confident they will feel with the relevance of your work. Your buyers will also feel more satisfied in your working relationship. And let’s face it, a buyer will always have their own preferences, and there might be times that you actually want to accommodate those preferences. In those situations, you’ll need responsive capabilities in order to seal a deal.

Physical/digital shifts. When you don’t have to worry about producing a physical product, when you design entirely in the digital realm, being responsive means you can easily convert what you see in the physical world into a digital equivalent that captures the experience you envision and brings it to life on-screen. However, as in fashion and graphic arts, the ability to shift between the digital and physical is another demonstration of responsiveness. Translating a digital design into physical materials and processes can be significantly more complex, and there are precise tools available today to assist in this transition.

Challenges to Responsiveness

Language. To work faster you have to speak the right lingo, sew from the same pattern. But color is emotional and hard to describe. You need a language for color, and when you and all the partners that produce your finished work communicate using the same language, your team gains an assurance that what they create on your behalf will meet your expectations.

Technical knowledge. Many designers aren’t eager to visit a dye house or the other industrial places their materials are made. Eighty-four percent of designers have moderate to no knowledge of how color is manufactured and if specific colors are achievable using specific techniques on specific materials. Besides, you may not WANT to know how the soup is made, you might just want to order the soup and enjoy the way it feels, smells, and tastes.

Managing complexity. Even with years of experience and knowledge of color manufacturing, keeping all of the complexities and dependencies straight in your mind can be a daunting task. Managing color across digital and physical specifications requires computations difficult to keep in your head. Hasn’t someone figured all this stuff out and made it available in a cheat-sheet yet? Can we automate that please?

How We Can Be Heroes (for one day and beyond) To tame color and become more responsive, you can partner with color experts who are sensitive to both color trends and the achievability of color. Apparel designers and textile designers need tools that help in both of these areas to maximize relevance. Use tools that show you how different colors can be achieved on different materials so you can anticipate results. Speak the language that the industry speaks. Do these things and you’ll increase your responsiveness, capitalizing on fast-moving trends before they are considered last season’s.

What can designers do to improve responsiveness?

  • Define and specify a common color goal for all your team members using the standards already used by textile manufacturers or other manufacturers of color.
  • Set a clear, achievable standard for consistent color on different materials, and even across different partners.
  • Anticipate and adapt to meet color challenges posed by different materials in the front end of design, using color achievability tools.

Responsiveness is the new requirement. How will you adapt the way you’re working to meet and exceed it?

Adrián Fernández is general manager at Pantone, the language of color for graphic arts, textiles, and products. He has a passion for addressing key color challenges and a thorough understanding of the value chain from brands and designers to manufacturers to retail partners.

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