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The Demographics of Color

There's a science to color selection and how different generations react to hues. Wondering what to use in that new college rec center? Think electric blue.

June 01, 2006 |

Red is now the hot color! Or is blue cool? Silver might be the in thing. Maybe it's black; then again, has black ever stopped being trendy?

Color trends influence the design and construction industries as significantly as they affect the world of fashion. Color affects everything from paint to carpeting to curtain walls to glass coatings, and for virtually every building type.

Determining which shades have it made is far from arbitrary. "Color popularity doesn't automatically change on January first," says Josette Buisson, artistic director for Pittsburgh Paints. Buisson spoke about the future of color at PPG Industries' ColorShare Forums in Manhattan and Chicago last month.

As Buisson noted, there's a science behind color selection. "Colors aren't new. What's new is how we look at them," she says.

The Information Age color palette

Buisson looks into why people are attracted to certain colors, why people change their opinions about colors, and how colors reflect what's happening in the world. And that's what makes it impossible for her to simply name one hot color.

Buisson instead discussed color "families" that reflect our subjective reaction to external phenomena, such as world violence, the environment, technology, industrial development, and the information age. People in different age groups react differently to these global influences, which in turn figures into color trends.

When Buisson's final color calculations were made, the following four trends emerged:

  1. Eco-inspired colors

    These colors reflect an interest in nature, the environment, and a respect for the organic—buildings that harmonize with their site. The colors are light, warm, and earthy, with greens, blues, and neutrals. Mineral colors and some metallics—such as copper—are also included.

  2. Target market:Buisson's research indicates that the "responsible and balanced" Generation X (ages 25-41) and Boomers (ages 42-60), who were the first to pursue the green movement, respond extremely well to these colors.

    The calming color palette

    3. Calming colors

    These colors are soothing and luxurious, chosen for their ability to counter the stress of living and working in an unpredictable world. The colors are rich and saturated, with deep browns, purples, gray, and silver.
    Target market:Buisson's research indicates thatsuccessful individuals from all age groups who respond to quality and originality respond to these colors, especially those in the Boomer generation—who are at their peak earning potential—and in the "Primetime" generation (ages 60+)—retirees living well.

  4. Industrial colors

    These colors are strong, clean, and indicative of a mass market modern. The corporate and industrial worlds are well represented, with colors in the red, orange, blue, and brown families. There are also lots of soft creams and beiges.
    Target market:Buisson's research indicates that Generation X would respond very well to these colors, as would individuals who appreciate a more streamlined aesthetic.

  5. Information Age colors

    This group consists of bold, explosive colors reminiscent of the cyber world of IT, computers, and gaming. The colors are bright whites, electric blues, and vivid yellows and aquas.
    Target market:Buisson's research indicates that Generation Y (ages 3-24), the digital generation, would respond strongly to these colors because they grew up—and are growing up—with computers, they live in the moment, and they multitask. For this group, life moves fast, even if they don't: They are the least physically fit generation.Visit for information on upcoming ColorShare forums.

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