Furniture & Interior Design

Good color design needs a mixture of rationality and emotion

7 min.

Where do color trends come from? Color expert Karl Johan Bertilsson talks about color psychology and the pitfalls when it comes to using colors and materials. And he predicts a frenzy of colors following the coronavirus pandemic.

© Vandathai /

Each year, new color trends rule the worlds of fashion, furniture, home accessories and store interiors. But where do trend colors, such as the Pantone® Color of the Year 2021: Ultimate Gray + Illuminating, come from? And how long are they here to stay? Are they an expression of the collective zeitgeist, or do they manipulate our tastes? And what do designers, interior designers and manufacturers have to consider when choosing colors? PLEXIGLAS® asked one of the most renowned color experts: Karl Johan Bertilsson.

Mr. Bertilsson, how do color trends evolve, and who defines them?

A color trend, unlike other trends, is not based on innovation. There are no new colors, as all colors already exist. Color trends are determined by two aspects: A repetitive cycle of color preferences, which is purely psychological, and external drivers: these can be anything from economic crises, to war or climate change, to local and cultural influences.

Why do color preferences change?

When we are bombarded with very similar color impressions over a period of time, the brain tires and desires the contrasting extreme. This is a simplification, because it is really a step-by-step process in nuanced areas: from highly chromatic, strong colors to slightly duller, darker colors, to lighter pastel colors, before we get to that neutral stage, where all we want are grey tones. And then the process is reversed again. There is nothing we can do to influence this cycle. Most people on this planet are similarly affected by it.

Karl Johan Bertilsson is Creative Director and member of the Colour Trend Forecasting Group at NCS Colour. The Natural Colour System (NCS) is an internationally renowned, standardized color system developed by the Scandinavian Colour Institute in Stockholm.

Really? Does that mean color trends are global, despite different cultural backgrounds?

Even if some color preferences can be connected to local drivers, they are actually more global today than ever before. I recently held a workshop in Milan with participants from Europe, the United States and China to compare visions of current color trends and forecasts for the coming year. The presented color palettes were more similar than I have ever seen before because the drivers are similar. We are all going through this pandemic. People are connected via the internet and see what is happening around the world.

© Zamurovic Brothers /

Isn't the popularity of colors also a chicken-and-egg question? Do we not simply end up liking certain colors because we see them all the time?

A good example of this is the popular TV series, “Orange Is the New Black”. The series is about a prison in the United States, and in it, the prisoners wear orange uniforms. Suddenly, orange became extremely trendy – to such an extreme, that some prisons decided to change the color of the uniforms, because the only reason for the bright orange color is to make prisoners easier to spot if they escape. But what if everybody is wearing orange? It may sound absurd, but it’s true. The TV series did not, however, initiate the orange color trend. It merely reinforced it, as we were already prepared for strong colors.

How come?

If you launch a color without understanding which color shades people are receptive to, they will not accept it. It is therefore very important to do your research before developing a color trend to ensure its acceptance.

Orange and yellow are the most difficult colors to accept. Despite this, when yellow becomes a trend and you see it everywhere, you begin to welcome it and want to utilize it too. This is the subtle effect of trend colors. However, this still this does not mean we can use them for just anything.


Karl Johan Bertilsson, Creative Director at NCS Colour

This leads to an important point: The same color may have a different effect on different materials and surfaces. What should furniture designers or shopfitters pay attention to?

Some colors are difficult to use on large surfaces – yellow, for example, because of its enormous brightness. Looking at a yellow surface for too long can make you dizzy and wish to rest your eyes on a darker color. This is why yellow is usually used on smaller surfaces, as a spot of color, or in combination with other colors. You need contrast. As a designer, you could also use a less intense shade, such as a darker yellow.

Which means that designers should carefully consider how they use a trend color?

We have a few simple rules in interior design: The more chromatic the color, the smaller the surface you should use it on. If you want to have very light and strong colors, there should be a balance because too much light in chromatic colors is tiring. Three dimensions should be considered: Color compass, hue and nuance – although the hue is often a less decisive factor than nuance, which means how strong, dark or light a color is.

Trend colors

Yellow has an enormous brightness. It should be used on smaller surfaces, as a spot of color, or in combination with other colors.

© Dragos Asaftei/

Trend colors

Colors have a different effect on textiles than on plastics.

© Olga Prava/

Trend colors

An intense color tone on a high-gloss surface is also reflected on the surrounding surfaces.

© Röhm GmbH


The brand acrylic glass from Röhm is available in many standard colors, can be dyed in any desired hue and can be backprinted in color. This is why it fits every color trend – including the Pantone® Color of the year 2021: Ultimate Gray + Illuminating.

The texture of the material also has an impact, with colors having a different effect on textiles than on plastics. What does this mean for the use of colors on materials with high-gloss surfaces, such as PLEXIGLAS® for example?

A material with a glossy surface can set interesting color accents. For example, an intense color tone on a high-gloss surface is also reflected on the surrounding surfaces. This is a fascinating effect to play with. And with PLEXIGLAS® you have both gloss and transparency.

It makes a difference whether a material is opaque, transparent or translucent respectively, as the objects behind it will be visible. Designers using PLEXIGLAS® should take these effects into account.

Could you make a few suggestions?

Every shop is a dynamic area, as with every change of products, there will be different colors. For translucent elements in shopfitting, choose a strong color that shows the contours of the products behind, but not their colors. The light source also is important. For example, if light shines through a translucent red surface, there will be a pinkish glow on the goods behind it. This may not be desirable.

How does color affect the mood of customers?

Working with color always has consequences and designers and shopfitters need to be aware of this. The question they have to ask themselves is: What feeling do they want to evoke? When choosing colors for the till area, strong and chromatic colors, like bright red or orange should be avoided because they make us nervous. But in some places, it may be good to make people a little nervous, to make them active.

In color design you need to balance intuition with rational decisions. You have to put the heart and the brain together and understand what you are doing. Color is not only an aesthetic issue. It is also functional and meaningful.

How big a role do trend colors play in your products?

Our readers' assessment:

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1 star: none at all – 5 stars: very significant

Nevertheless, color trends are subject to constant change. Is it even worth producing products in a trend color, if another color will be en vogue next year?

Now I have to simplify again: The more intense the color, the faster you get tired of it. So for large, expensive and long-lasting furniture, less intense colors are better suited. For manufacturers, it is a balancing act. They have to keep products on hand that customers will like for longer periods of time, and at the same time, make you feel that you can also get the latest trends from them. Consider IKEA, for instance. They produce mainstream furniture, but they want it to also be in line with the trends.

One of the ways to do so is to position a line of furniture with an extremely trendy color, while knowing that most people will not buy it. Because when it comes down to it, people will not choose the red sofa, they will buy the gray one. But they need to see a red sofa in the store if red is the color of the season.

© ganjalex /

A look to the near future: What’s your color forecast for 2022?

When the pandemic is over, there will be an explosion of emotions! We will see crazy combinations of chromatic colors. Many fashion houses right now are positioning themselves with psychedelic patterns – high-contrast, bright colors that swirl as if in a frenzy. Then there will be a transition period with overlapping extremes, from the psychedelic colors to much lighter color palettes.

A lot of our forecasters even expect that we will not want any stimuli anymore when this is over. In the period after the color rush, the trend will be toward single colors instead of color blocking; toward calming and natural colors, such as light shades of green, because nature has become so important to us.


Color expert Karl Johan Bertilsson

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