Design Domination Podcast Episode #23: Color Convo With Pantone’s Leatrice Eiseman

Do you pick colors arbitrarily? Do you have trouble defending your color choices to clients? Find out from world-renowned color connoisseur Leatrice Eiseman how to be the expert. Learn how color affects us physiologically, how it affects a design, what to consider when choosing colors, how to talk to clients about it, and more.

Leatrice EisemanLeatrice Eiseman heads the Eiseman Center for Color Information & Training on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and is also executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. Her academic background includes a degree in psychology from Antioch University, plus advanced studies and counseling specialist certification from UCLA. Fortune Magazine named her one of the 10 “Top Decision Makers” for her work in color consulting and forecasting.

Lee conducts color seminars for trade shows, a variety of industries, professional groups and museums. She is an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers, the Industrial Design Society of America and Fashion Group International, and is a founding member of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

The author of 10 books on color, Lee teaches a Color Design program once a year, the next one in July 2019. She can be found at

Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Lee. I’m thrilled to have you here.

Leatrice Eiseman: I’m delighted to be with you.

Colleen: You are the color connoisseur of the world. It’s fabulous to have you here.

Leatrice: Oh, “color connoisseur…” I like that! That’s a new one but I like it.

Colleen: So, you know, I was doing some research on your sites, you know, and I came across these great stories of how it seems like you were influenced by your mother’s love of color and painting. I would love for you to start out by sharing the stories about the toaster and the piano.

Leatrice: Well, when I was a little girl, I had the benefit of having not only my mother, but an aunt who I loved dearly, who lived with us for a time, really encouraged me because they saw that I had some talent with color. When I say “talent with color,” I mean the ability to combine colors well and to pick out colors and have them work in a particular setting.

But at least they were… They encouraged me in that they knew that I did have this ability and even though I’m not an artist per se, and I’m not a musician either, I think that people who have a special ability with color kind of know that from the time that they’re children. That’s not to say that you can’t nurture the ability to choose color, but I’m getting off on another tangent now…

What I’m trying to get at is that I think that if you’ve got kids, you need to recognize those that do have a special gift of working with color the way that I was gifted with an aunt and a mother who encouraged me.

But my mom would be an absolute demon with the paintbrush. I would come home from school every spring and we lived in Baltimore and we lived in a rowhouse, you know, so it was small. You could easily repaint the inside of the house—and my mother had a lot of energy. She could do it all in one day. What would get painted along the way would be… I remember an old broiler that we had… I can even remember what it looked like. She decided it needed to be this kind of pistachio green instead of the color that it was, and then a toaster that she decided needed to be another color.

But she was not much of an electrician. And, of course, I think she almost burned the house down the first time she plugged in the toaster after that. It was a lesson learned. Anything that stood in her way got the paintbrush taken to it. I have to tell you that it really was kind of fun to come home and find the new color of the year. Little did I know at that point, that years later I would be very much involved with the Color of the Year process.

Colleen: Right. That’s hilarious. And then I think you said something about like, there were 2,000 coats of paint on the piano and when you went to move you weren’t sure how they could even move it.

Leatrice: Yes. I just don’t know how those movers handled that piano. Okay. I mean, she had it before I was born, so we had it for maybe 25 years and the movers came and they had trouble lifting it up. I remember saying it had so many coats of paint on it, it’s a wonder anybody can lift the piano up. Because every year the piano—the upright, the old upright—got a new color.

Colleen: That’s great. Now color theory, you know, it’s not just relevant to graphic design and the printing industry, of course. It affects all industries and so much of what we do like in advertising and fashion and interior design, product design. You said in a statement about Pantone Color of the Year, that

“Color is an equalizing lens through which we experience our natural and digital realities.”

I’d love for you to explain that.

Leatrice: Well, you know, at one point in time if we talked about color, if we had a discussion of it in real time, so to speak, we would think of color in the context of nature colors, the color of our room or color that we were working with at a particular time.

But the digital world has really expanded people’s views of color and are making them far more aware of color. I mean, when you think of social media and you think of this necessity almost on the part of many people to put out what they think is a beautiful color combination and want to share it with others.

So that’s brought a whole new element into our lives. It’s not that we don’t look at magazines anymore and do all the things that we always did before. But the digitized world really has brought about a new appreciation of color, a new aspect of our lives. It’s not only a question of looking around us in nature and seeing beautiful color. But it’s also now going online and going onto Instagram and finding a combination that you love and you say, “Oh my goodness, I need to do that in my living room,” “I need to have an outfit that looks like that,” “I want a car that color.”

Colleen: Right!

Leatrice: So it’s expanded our world.

Colleen: Yeah. You have great photos on Instagram.

Leatrice: Yeah. Well, I’m glad you like them. I mean, it’s really interesting. My only concern is that if people get so tied in to social media, checking everything out on the phone, which we’re all doing all the time, that sometimes you miss what is in the environment around you.

When I see people going on a walk in some beautiful place with their phone out, instead of bathing in the color of the garden around them or the foliage, that is a concern. I think for creatives that’s a particular concern because we really need to be super aware of everything that’s happening in the world around this. We never know where inspiration is going to come from next.

Colleen: That’s so true. I can get inspired by a piece of fabric or something in the store.

Leatrice: Exactly. We need to keep our eyes open to that. But if we’re too busy occupied with other things and because our smartphones are so accessible and so easy and they become such a habit, then, as I said, we might be not looking at the world around us rather than taking in all the beauty that color gives us in our natural world.

Colleen: Right. Now, in your book, The Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color, which I’ve had on my bookshelf for almost 20 years now. I’ve referred to it so many times over the years. I mean it’s just such a great book for so many different reasons, but you say,

“Color is often called the ‘silent salesperson’ and in many cases must immediately create a brand identity and, most importantly, help to make the sale. At the very least (as on a web page or in a print ad), it must create enough interest or curiosity to induce the would-be buyer to find out more about the product or service.”

I thought that was great because—I guess you probably see this too—but I see a lot of designers that just pick colors haphazardly and aren’t thinking about the psychology behind it.

Leatrice: Yes, you are absolutely right. The psychology behind the color, the emotional meaning of the color, is such an important aspect of why we should choose brand image colors or the colors that we’re going to use on a website, or any other uses of color. The product that we’re producing.

It is not just a question of “I like that color,” “I don’t like that color.” I know that sounds simplistic, but I think all of us who work in color have had experiences with clients where you go in with a color that you think is just fantastic for a particular project and you get turned down cold.

Colleen: Yeah.

Leatrice: And when you ask why, they will share with you, “Well, I hate that color,” “I just don’t like that color.” We know that that is not the approach we need to be taking. So you as a professional, anyone who is working with others with color needs to be armed with the reasoning behind that color. You need to know what that color says, who it speaks to, in order to make your case for that particular color.

In all of my books—well, not all of them, I’ve written 10 now, but I think in most of them—I’ve included a color word association study that I will ask the reader to take because this can be valuable information to take when you’re going out on a project and trying to sell, you know, an idea or concept that includes color—and most everything does.

Of some of the questions that you would ask of that particular person, whether it’d be the CEO of the company or the manager that you’re dealing with: “Tell me a little bit about why you dislike that color. What does this color say to you?”

You’ll get an amazing amount of information as to why they like it or dislike it. You can take that task then and tell them, as I tell my students all the time,

“You need to divorce your personal self from your professional self.”

You know, the private from the personal. Because the last thing you should be saying is, “I hate that color.” Even though it may be a color that, in fact, you as a designer, do have a negative reaction to.

Maybe you got a tricycle when you were five years old and you love that tricycle, but you fell off of it and you broke your ankle and you had to sit still while all your friends got to ride their tricycles. So the color of that tricycle is planted in your memory bank. So you go through life not loving that color.

But I always say to people, particularly those that I’m challenged with, is that even relevant today? What has that got to do with what we’re trying to accomplish here? If, in fact, that candy apple red is the perfect color for the product that you’re making because it is a color that will show up in the marketplace, a physiological reason why it will work. In addition to that, it’s exciting, it’s dynamic, it talks of achievers. These are the kind of people you want to appeal to.

So, again, if you’re armed with all that information about a color, you stand a much better chance of selling your idea or your project.

Colleen: You also mention in the book so many great points about how color choice is even affected by economic issues, sociological issues, and there were some other types of issues too.

Leatrice: Well, I think all I have to do is point to the Color of the Year for 2019. That is the Living Coral. We were very aware, as we all are, that there is a huge problem with the coral reefs all over the world, that they are being bleached out and they provide sustenance for marine life, a very, very important part of our ecosystem.

So this certainly entered into our thinking in choosing the Color of the Year. I mean not only is living coral a beautiful color and it makes us think of a gorgeous sunset and we all want to go to Hawaii at this time of year—

Colleen: Yes, please!

Leatrice: …and bask in that sunset, you know. But at the same time, one of the most important reasonings for the color was the effect on the ecosystem. So that is an example—just one example—of why we go down the path of choosing certain colors.

Because there’s a lot being written about, a lot being talked about it. We have to increase our social awareness and know about these things and have a discussion. As I always say, start a conversation. That is the most important thing.

I mean, people ask us all the time, “Why do you people even do a color of the year?” Because it starts a conversation about color. If you can get people talking about color, even if they say, “You know what, I’m going even choose my own ties or my shirts,” or “My girlfriend does that for me. I don’t know anything about color.” If you continue to have a conversation, you find out that most people have much more of an attachment to color than they even know about or acknowledge. That is such an interesting path to take, to have that discussion about color.

Colleen: Also in that book you talk a lot about the science behind it too. You even go into how we interpret color, how our eyes handle it. You say that our eyes see warm colors before we see cool ones because the warm colors are advancing in the cooler ones recede.

Leatrice: Right. That’s a physiological reason. Again, you know, we have no control over that. That is something that is part of who we are as human beings. So the warm colors advance in our line of vision and the cool colors recede.

Now, if you were making a case for something that you really, really wanted to stand out—particularly in a sea of competition, where you’ve got a lot of other products that are vying for attention—if you choose a particular color—let’s say it’s a very warm orange as an example—we know that that orange is going to really come forward in the consumer’s eye. So if they’re rushing down, you know, a department store aisle or supermarket or wherever they are, that orange is going to be something that they’re going to see first.

But that’s the physiological aspect of it. Then we have to question: is orange the proper color for all of the emotional underlying reasons why we need to use that? Maybe the orange is used as a secondary color, as a spot color, not necessarily as the primary color.

There are lots of reasons why color is chosen. It is not simplistic—you know, again, because “I love this color” or “I hate that color.” There are lots of aspects of it that have to be answered. A lot of it will be in the world of business, very pragmatically, based on what your competition is doing because the last thing you want to do is look like you’re copying what somebody else has done before you.

Colleen: Sure.

Leatrice: Sometimes it’s a question of just tweaking a color. Even though you may say, “Well, we want to stay with red because we feel that that color is the right color.” You need to check out what your competition is doing and make sure you’re not mimicking exactly what someone else does. You don’t have to give up on the red. But let’s look at other red-based colors. Maybe we can tweak it and maybe we can push it slightly in another direction and still get the attention we want to get—because there’s still a lot of warmth in that color—yet we’re not doing exactly what somebody else has done.

Colleen: You can also take into consideration—other than emotions and who your audience is—physiological issues that they might have or physical issues they might have. You talk about color and aging and how our eyes change as we get older and how that can affect the colors.

Leatrice: Right. Well, it’s interesting today though, because many older people are having the cataract surgery. What happens after cataract surgery is sometimes you see color even better than you did when you were younger.

Colleen: Wow.

Leatrice: … and your depth perception can be very different as well. So even though it may seem a disadvantage to begin with, in time, that could very well change. But for now, assuming that the majority of the older demographic you’re dealing with has not reached the age quite yet that they are looking at cataract surgery, but there is some dimming that is starting to happen, then obviously the most important thing is to use colors that you pump up a little bit that have a little bit more degree of vibrancy or you are very sure when you use your cool colors, which have that receding quality. So that can be a disadvantage that you are using them in combination with some warm colors or, particularly in your cool family (your blues, your blue-greens, your lavenders that lean to the blue side), make sure that there is enough of a line of demarcation between those colors.

So you could bring a neutral color and just to show that there is a border between those colors and therefore one color won’t blend into the other, so that they all seem to kind of disappear together and you don’t see any distinction between the three of the colors.

There are little tricks of the trade that we can use, and that’s what I attempt to talk about in my books and in my classes where I teach color. Because these kinds of nuances that you can bring to your work, and these are the things you point out to your client that they probably are not aware of. It makes you seem much smarter in what you’re doing, and it impresses a client because they say this is somebody who’s really studied it and really has a greater understanding certainly than I do about color.

Colleen: When it comes to cultures, there are lots of different cultures in the United States. You might be in a situation where you’re designing something that might be a global product and so you have an audience in different parts of the world. Black, you know, has certain connotations in the United States, but that same color is going to have a completely different meaning in another country. So how can designers address those challenges if they’re trying to figure out, okay, well which color am I supposed to use for this—like a multicultural audience or if it’s a global audience?

Leatrice: Well, there are several answers to that question. One is, of course, if you’re working within a particular culture, you need to do your homework and find out what colors might be considered verboten or not culturally correct, if there is some reason for that. But make sure that you’re getting your information from a source that you can believe in. You can’t call up a friend who is Italian and have him ask his Italian grandma why this color isn’t big in Italy.

First of all, it’s a different day and age we’re living in. Secondly, I have heard different opinions. You know, when you’re asking people their opinions about what color you should use in a particular country or their background, you’ll have some people say, with the very same color, “Oh, you should never use green for this reason,” or “You should always use green for that reason.”

So you’ve got to have viable resources that you can depend on.

But here’s another very, very important thing to remember today, and that is that we are dealing always with a younger demographic. These are the people who are very savvy. They are constantly looking at what’s online, what’s on their phones, what they’re seeing. They’re looking at the colors coming down the runway, I mean, almost instantaneously. After a big designer shows something on the runway, you can go on your phone and see exactly what colors came down the runway in real time. You know, you don’t have to wait to find that out. So many young people today are tuned in to exactly that.

I tell you, I travel the world. I was just in Asia doing talks in three different areas where, I can tell you, I could walk down the main street there. If I were looking at just the clothing and into the windows, I could pretend that I was in San Francisco or New York or Chicago or Seattle.

Colleen: Oh.

Leatrice: That is how similar the color picture has gotten because young people are looking at what the hot trend colors are and they’re looking at them from a much more universal perspective. Now, maybe grandma, grandpa or their mothers or fathers who were steeped in that traditional way of thinking, or if they lived someplace out in the hinterlands and not in a big city where they don’t have access to a lot of that stuff, even though today everybody’s got a smartphone… So even that argument, you can’t win anymore…

Everyone has access to all kinds of information. It just depends on the interest level. I can tell you one of the reasons that they invite me to Asia several times a year is they want our take on how to use color. As I look around the audience, I can say to you that many of them are already there. I can look out at this audience and, again, I don’t know whether I’m standing in front of an audience in San Francisco or in Seoul, Korea.

A lot of that is changing, a much more universal perspective. Now, I am not saying that people are going to throw away all the cultural aspects of color. We know in China, red is a revered color used in feng shui, the practice of feng shui. It means that you’re going to have more prosperity if you paint your front door red. That is a belief system that many embrace and yet if that young Chinese person came to the U.S. to live and go to school and then work for awhile, they may very well adapt what they’re seeing in the world around them and then go back home and re-embrace some of their cultural ideas. But still they are looking at a much bigger world.

That’s why I say to people who are engaged in working with clients who come from other parts of the world, do some homework, find out, you know, if there is something verboten and if, in fact, you are seeing an avoidance of that color in that country… I mean, the best examples I can give to you are… Wherever I travel in the world, Coke is red. That is very much accepted. Even if you were in a culture where red was considered, you know, too blatant, too aggressive. Still, it’s become part of what Coke’s message is all about.

So I don’t think there should be that huge hesitancy and concern, certainly about changing your brand identity color because if you’ve established that brand color and you have some equity in that color, you need to have some confidence in that color and, you know, figure out the best way to use it in another culture and not be afraid to go with what your brand equity tells you you should go with.

Colleen: You even say that people living in certain areas are actually attracted to certain types of colors. So if they live in a warmer climate, they’re actually attracted more to warmer colors.

Leatrice: Well, that is a general tendency because the closer to the equator we live, the more we are drawn to bright, warm colors. So I think that’s fairly obvious. Again, this is physiological… Our eyes can handle more brightness because when you live in an area where there’s a lot of sunlight—and anybody who lives in southern California, where I used to live knows this to be true—you can paint the outside of the building a much brighter color than you would if you moved to Seattle, as I did, because in Seattle the sky is more muted. So a bright color here is going to be really outstanding. Whereas with the sun baking on an exterior in southern California, you can use colors that are much more vibrant because they don’t appear that vibrant to the human eye because the sun has taken some of that vibrancy out of the color.

Let’s say you lived in Boston and you decided you wanted to move to the desert, you wanted to move to, you know, some place in the American desert, and the colors that are indigenous to your area are kind of browns and deserty colors and sand. And, you know, if you move to an area where the native American culture is deeply entrenched, you’re going to see a lot of turquoise as an accent to those colors. Then you embrace, often, the world that you move to.

Colleen: Interesting… Going back to light and how we view color… Even when you’re choosing a color in a Pantone book or any kind of a swatch book—whether it’s for graphic design purposes or paint or something else—you have to view that in the proper light to understand how it’s really gonna look when it is actually used.

Leatrice: I know. And that’s one of the biggest problems that we have with choosing color for anything that you choose. If you choose it under department store lighting, if you’re in a store and buying something and then you bring it home, or take it outside and then it appears to be a completely different color than it did in the store. It’s called “metamerism” and it means that under different lighting, the color will appear to be different.

So it can be extremely important when you’re painting the interior of your house or your apartment… You need to view it underneath different light temperatures. You need to look at the color in broad daylight if you get a lot of daylight coming into that room, and you want to look at it if you have incandescent light in or fluorescent light or LED, you need to look at it under that light to make sure that the color still appeals to you and doesn’t change so much that it appears to be a different color.

Colleen: Yeah, and I really like how in the back of the Pantone swatch books, there are the two different squares and the squares are slightly different colors. But when you’re in the proper lighting, they appear to be the same color. So that’s helpful.

Leatrice: Exactly.

Colleen: Now when you go about selecting a color scheme… We were talking earlier about when you have your primary color and secondary color… Do you have any guidelines for designers who are just learning how to do this, how to choose those colors?

Leatrice: Well, that’s always a tricky question because I am not a believer in heavy color rules and I know that, depending on where you were schooled and when you were schooled and the teacher that taught you, if they are very opinionated about color and “You must always do this and you never ever do that,” that kind of makes me cringe.

We can follow certain guidelines, which is the word that I far prefer using when it comes to color rather than absolute rules. As a matter of fact, in my latest book, I have talked about the fact that there are times that we deliberately break the rules. Why do we break them? In the book called Color Harmony, which is a Rockport book, I talk about dissonance, I talk about discord, I talk about power clashing, which, I’m sure, to some people who are real traditionalists in the way they teach color would probably hate that idea…

But there are times that we deliberately do so-called “discordant combinations” because they are representing something that is rather discordant.

So I would say the most important thing, and I do this in all of my classes and I’m teaching a class—an advanced class now for people who have taken my first course—where we’re going to go back and revisit the color wheel, but with a new pair of eyes, a new sensibility. Because the color wheel can be a great indicator as to certain basic precepts.

For example, we know that complementary colors are directly across from each other on the color wheel. Now, what we know about that is that they’re called “complementary” because they complete each other. That means that your red is never going to seem redder than when it is placed next to a green. These are opposite each other on the color wheel. Now, I know the first thing that people will think about is the Christmas tree colors. “Oh my goodness. Who would use that unless it’s Christmas?”

But, if you’re a colorist, you immediately think, okay, what variations of red am I talking about. Could that be a pink or a rose? And what shade of green? Is it blue-green, a turquoise kind of green, or is it a yellow-green that we’re talking about? Well, it could be any of the above.

We have a vast array of color that we could work with, but we know it’s a given at any time you use the red family in opposition to the green family—whatever variations thereof—they’re always going to make the opposite color seem even more intense than they actually are.

If you continue around the color wheel and you look at the analogous colors, or neighboring colors, first cousins on the color wheel, any color which is related to another color that has the same undertone is bound to be pleasant to the eye, acceptable and a safe way to go because they all have the same undertones, the presence of the same undertone. So your blues next to your greens next your lavenders are all going to have some degree of undertone. It’s going to be similar, so that’s, that’s a pretty safe bet.

These are pretty good basic rules that you can always go back to. But, at the same time, don’t let it hinder your own instinct. If you are one of those people that has always had a great sense of color—people are always asking your advice and you love color and you love to work with it—don’t hinder yourself too much by putting too many, “never, never” rules on your head.

Think in terms of your putting the colors together. Maybe you’re using that color wheel as a guide, maybe not. And to your eye it’s very pleasing, the colors work. But you can also justify that choice. That is why in this Color Harmony book, I have 30 different moods, but kind of a new take on some of the moods.

For example, one of the moods in the book is called “rich.” And when we think “rich,” we think of certainly rich color and things associated with richness. Now, at one period of time, “rich” was not really associated with brown in color association studies that we did—and I use them all the time. If you said “brown” to anybody or showed them a brown swatch immediately they’d say “earth,” “dirt” or “dirty.” Not necessarily, you know, positive responses.

But the whole, what I call “Starbucks phenomenon” in the late 90s really changed that and people started to wrap their heads around, “Ooh, that’s a beautiful cup of coffee.” You know, there’s a Starbucks on every corner and there’s lots of brown within the Starbucks. A picture came out called “Chocolat,” and Godiva became more attainable and more advertised. So, again, those social reasons, socioeconomic reasons, why a color starts to take on a different personality.

So getting back to the “rich…” What I propose is that uses wonderful chocolate and coffee browns because people are associating that more today with “chocolate” and “coffee” than they are with “dirt” and “dirty.”

In addition to that, there are some beautiful wine reds, think of a great glass of wine…

Colleen: Yes.

Leatrice: Purples that are considered very rich and elegant… But we’re also including in that now a beautiful yellow-green. I know that certain people would groan if I say “avocado,” but essentially that is… Let’s say “olive” instead of “avocado.” Think of a long-stem martini glass with a beautiful olive in it with a red pimento. That is considered “rich” too. Let’s think beyond the usual into something that’s a little bit more unique so that, again, we can be different than our competition is.

Colleen: You know, I guess it would depend on the shade of brown, but some people consider some lighter colors, like the neutrals, the achromatics—lighter browns, beige, gray—“safe.” I was looking back through The Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color again, and I found it interesting what you said about Apple and the first iMacs. All computers were beige—I think you even referred to one of them as “greige.” Apple came out with all these “flavors,” these colors of iMacs, and they just changed so much in that industry.

Leatrice: Absolutely. You know it was so interesting to me because about maybe a year before Apple came out with their colors, I was approached through a graphic design company in Portland, Oregon. They wanted to bring in the big guns to convince a particular computer company that they needed to do color in their computers, in their computer frames and so on.

I came up with the… They wanted one color, the definitive color to start out with, and I came up with the color and they proposed it to this computer company (not Apple). It took them six months to make up their mind, and they finally did and said, “No. Nobody’s gonna buy a colored computer. It’s reaching too far.” Within six months, Apple came out and the first color that they chose was the color that I had chosen for this other computer company.

Colleen: Oh, wow.

Leatrice: So, you know, I knew that it was an idea whose time had come. Now, we know that in the late 90s, PCs were still selling stronger than Apple computers, but that’s not the point. Look at the “ink” that it earned, as they call it, the attention it got through the media. Then everybody in the whole stationery world and in that whole world started to imitate the colors on the iMac and every staple gun that appeared in the market place…

Colleen: Right.

Leatrice: … books and diaries and everybody was hopping on the Apple bandwagon. I mean, it extended beyond that. It extended into women’s accessories and all kinds of areas. But that was all because Apple took that leap, and I congratulate them on that.

Colleen: I know in your color seminar, you teach about “color forecasting.” So can you go into a little bit about what that is?

Leatrice: Well, color forecasting, of course, can enter into choices. It’s not the end-all and be-all. I don’t think that you should ever exclusively pick a color because it’s a hot trend, because, then it can seem a little too contrived, and it’s not really true to the messaging you’re trying to get across. I mean, it can be, you know…

Living Coral is a perfect example. I think it’s a gorgeous color and I think in certain contexts it would be fabulous, but it might not be the right color to use for a particular product that needs to have a different kind of messaging.

So, again, the psychological ramifications, the emotional aspect of the color, is really most important. However, having said that, trends do start a conversation and a trend color might be exactly the right color for a job that you’re working on, something that’s a little different that, you know, tweaks the eye a little bit, that is unusual, and it is a trend color and you bring it in or you’re—and I’ve worked for several companies who’ve said this to me… “You know, we’re being perceived of as a little bit old hat. We want to attract a younger demographic and so we’re looking to you to provide us with some trend colors.” I mean, they’re actually coming to me to ask me to do trend colors.

So if your client is open to that and knows that they need to do an update, and interjecting some trend colors is a great way to do that, then absolutely. If it gets your messaging across, then it’s the right choice.

But to further answer your question, those of us who do the trend forecasting come to the trends that we are seeing happening by being über observers. I mean, we travel the world. I go all over Europe and Asia, and next year I’ll be going to Latin America. I mean, I get so much influence from the areas that I travel in. I go to a lot of trade shows and I walk through the towns and I talk with the people who are there, and I do the same thing here in the U.S. There is that, the face-to-face communication and even if you can’t be there, visit those locations on your smartphone and get a sense of what they’re like.

But we also look at… I’ll give you a really good example: the world of art. And even though that sounds a little bit elitist and you say, well, you know, when somebody’s buying, you know, an air diffuser at Walmart, are they really, you know gonna… Is the world of art going to influence them? Well, I have to say that even that has changed ever since Steve Wynn brought into the Bellagio in Las Vegas a Jackson Pollock collection and people lined up around the block—not to play the slots, but to see the collection.

Colleen: Wow.

Leatrice: Art is really getting much more democratization, so that if your local museum is bringing a collection in, even if you’re not a museum goer, you’re going to read about it, that the artist who is being featured is going to be talked about. What colors did that artists use? Is it getting a lot of attention? Is this collection going around the world? Is it revitalizing an artist from the retro period?

It’s all of those things that you take into consideration and you build that in as well. Fashion is an important area to look at, but it is not the end-all deal. Because it’s coming down the runway doesn’t mean that it’s going to be appropriate to be used in other areas, but that certainly plays into what makes for the trends.

Also, let’s say you, you hear that the Olympics are going to be placed in a certain city in two year’s time. What is that city? Is there a color that’s indigenous to that city? What is it associated with? Invariably, if you’ve got the Olympics happening somewhere or a big soccer tournament and it’s gotten a lot of play—a lot of people are talking about it—then even the colors of that team—the winning team—can enter into your awareness and you think about that.

Technology is huge. What are the concept cars—not the cars that are in the show room now, but the concept cars that are on the drawing board. What kind of finishes will they be in? How is that going to affect trends? What do we see as an ongoing trend? So all of these things have to be looked at and considered.

Colleen: Okay. So I have to ask, what is your favorite color?

Leatrice: Well, I have to tell you that as a colorist, I can’t have a favorite color. It’s sort of like asking me which is my favorite child.

Colleen: I was just going to say that!

Leatrice: No, seriously, I think that there are colors that to other people might seem ghastly, but it’s because they really haven’t learned how to use that color, how to use it in the right context and what you combine it with. Because, truly, color is rarely used in isolation. We’re always using it with other colors.

My challenge over the years has been maybe a color that I did grow up thinking was not particularly attractive because of where I lived and what my people around me said about that color. But when I was old enough to judge from myself, I changed my opinion. So I really can’t say what my favorite color is and I think it’s really dangerous territory when people work with color, not to be able to separate those two, but if you’re a good separator and you can say, “Okay, this is my personal choice, the color I love to wear and use in my home…” That’s all well and good, but it should never enter into your professional choices.

Colleen: You’ve got an annual seminar that you offer and, of course, you have 10 books and you just came out with the one.

Leatrice: Well, Color Harmony is a Pantone edition, so it has Pantone colors that are used within the book. It really is a very basic book, but with some ideas in it that aren’t so basic. What I mean by that is, if you look at the book, it is super condensed because I just didn’t want to fill it with so much that the eye would just get confused and having too much to look at. So I kept it down to the very basic tenets, but then I took it beyond when I took it into the 30 moods that are created, and I talked a bit more about discord, dissonance and power clashing. Those were areas I felt were very, very important. So this is a book that doesn’t have as many images in it as my other books have, but I did that deliberately to keep it kind of easy and to get the most basic points across.

There are nine other books besides that. I do have a book that really was the start of my color career, and that one is all about colors that you use for your personal usage, personal image. And that book is based on a theory called the color clock, which I have developed. It’s a fun system that gives you some insight into why certain colors look good on you, why they look good on other people, why you feel the way about certain colors that you do. But it’s a very personal look at color. A lot of image consultants use that book because it helps them in determining what colors are best for their clients. Some designers use it for that same purpose. That one’s called More Alive With Color, and that is one that was updated a few years ago.

Then I have one called Colors for Your Every Mood, which is more for interior design and how color is used in the world around you and your interior world around you.

Then I have several other books that are books that were originally meant for graphic designers. But what I have found over the years is that when people love color, they can’t get enough information. Anything you can give them on color regardless of what the end usage should be. They want to learn as much as they can because they have that passion for color and that interest in learning. So other books are out there.

I have a book, The Color Answer book, which I hope to be able to expand on in the future, which are the most frequently asked questions about color. And that covers quite a gamut of areas. It’s colors everywhere: in your garden, for your personal self, for a product. Whatever question we found—the top 100 questions that people have about color—are in that book.

So that’s kind of an overview of the books that I’ve written.

As far as my classes are concerned, I do one class a year here on Bainbridge Island, where I live and work. It is a class for people who, again, love color. Many of them are already involved in some usage of color within their work and their professional careers, but others are just passionate about color and either they want to make a career out of it or they simply want to add to their store of information that they already have about color. It’s taught over a four-day period in July. Our next class will be this coming July. We have a wonderful venue that we teach it at. We have a terrific little—I call it a “gem of a museum”—here on our island, and we have a classroom within that museum. You know, we cover color trends and forecasting. We cover psychology of color, consumer color preferences, theory of color, but most importantly we come together, we network with each other and we also have fun. That I think is an important part of going to a class.

Colleen: It sounds like fun!

Leatrice: Yes, it is a lot of fun. This year, we’re also doing something new that I haven’t done before. All the classes I’ve taught for a long time… I’ve never really done an advanced class. So for anyone who’s had the basic course—and there are quite a few that have—we’re opening up an advanced class in May at the museum as well.

Colleen: Okay, great. And all of your books and your design course can be found at

Thanks again, Leatrice, for being on the podcast. It’s been a lot of fun and it’s been an honor.

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