Role of colour in ecological approach to product and material design

Soňa Otiepková

Cite this article
Otiepková, S. (2022) ‘Role of colour in ecological approach to product and material design’, Architecture Papers of the Faculty of Architecture and Design STU, 26(3), pp. 33-41.



The aim of this research paper is to map, document and classify new, progressive and perspective approaches to colour in product and material design. The purpose is to identify the impact and importance of colour in the creation of new materials and products from an ecological point of view. This approach is also defined in the Declaration of Design (Montreal, 2017), whereby one of the basic pillars is, when designing new products, the challenge to take into account their environmental impact, while recognizing the importance of design in shaping the world.

The majority of current progressive approaches to design creation and research is set in an ecological framework, taking into account their impact on the environment. Before examining the role of colour in the ecological approach to product design, it is necessary to answer a few questions – What is the role of designers today and what are their obligations and responsibilities in design? What position do they have in the process of creating new redundant products? The new generation of designers responds to the change from linear to circular economy; using their creative skills, they seek to positively influence the changes that are currently taking place in the society.

The question is not whether colour is present in this process, but rather where it stands in this process, whether it can help it and how much it affects it. One of the aims of this article is to raise awareness in this area and arouse interest in and discussion on this topic.

In a study conducted by Satyendra Singh of the University of Winnipeg published in 2006, the importance of colours in creating new products is reflected: “People make up their minds within 90 seconds of their initial interactions with products. About 62-90 percent of the assessment is based on colours alone.” Also according to the study: “84.7% of consumers state that colour is the main reason that they buy specific products.” This means that colour in design cannot only be an artistic aspect conditioned by the artistic feeling of the creator, but rather is a very important tool influencing the consumer’s perception and the success of the product on the market.

The concept of colours in design is often overlooked and relegated to the background. The potential of colour in the context of sustainability is not currently being researched sufficiently and limited research has been devoted to this topic. Another problem that appears, when approaching this topic, is to understand and overcome how manufacturers and corporations have bent our perception of colour in recent years, in order to grow the sales and consumer lifestyle. It is also time to question the persistence of colour, which today is designed to last much longer than the product itself. This approach leads to the use of synthetic and chemically enhanced colours, which on one side have the “right” properties; on the other side, they make these colours non-ecological and hard to recycle.

To understand better the function of colour in the designing and manufacturing process, it is necessary to mention the colouring process itself, which defines how the colour gets on the material or product and where it is present. With the current trend of recycling and creating new materials and products from waste materials, in addition to the traditional methods of colouring products, another one is emerging, whereby the colour aesthetics of the final product is determined by the admixture of coloured pieces of waste materials. This method creates a new visual aesthetic and the heterogeneous surface of the product, in which several colours and materials are mixed, is now becoming a hallmark of recycled products.

In this research paper, we consider the approach of product and material designers and researchers to colour in an ecological context, as a stand-alone group of design and material creation. Within this main group, individual approaches can be classified into four basic principles, which the paper defines and describes. The main key and criterion to classification of these principles is, apart from the ecological aspect, the presence and importance of colour in the individual strategies, and the nature and composition of the material to which this strategy is applied. Exemplary works of specific designers are given for each group for a better understanding of their essence.

Based on research data, there is an infographic included in the research paper that aims to capture, where the colour enters the circular design process. The position of colour on the circle is closely related with the colouring process of products and materials.

The principles and approaches classified in this article have no fixed boundaries, they are not isolated. They influence or follow each other. The classification of the approach to colour in an ecological context allows us primarily to talk about it more professionally and to attempt to define its importance and role in individual approach. As implied by the research part of the article, colour is an integral part of the manufacturing and designing process and we have to have it on mind to achieve real circularity. Failure to employ the potential of colours in shaping new circular and ecological approach would be a missed opportunity.

Keywords: ecology, recycling, circular economy, sustainability, bio-based materials, design, colour