Colour is all around us but how many super powers does it have? We are all receptors to the powers of colours, but what does this mean for the design world? We caught up with Marianne Shillingford, the founder of the Colour in Design Award, to explore the endless opportunity colour brings to her world.

Hi Marianne, please can you tell us a little about your Design background?

*laughs* How long have we got?

Well, I studied art at Clarendon College in Nottingham. I loved all the creative processes and I was a good copyist and a good technician, but I felt that I just didn’t have anything artistically original to say in fine art. There was one thing that I did know for sure… I wanted to leave home and start earning some money with my skills.

I was good at painting and I’ve always understood the power of colour. Colour is theatre, it engages us and transforms the everyday into something magical. After college I enrolled on a sign writing course and started to earn a living painting pub signs and narrow boats. By the oddest chance I ended up working with an amazing Showman’s Decorator called Pete Tate and learnt the art of painting fairgrounds.
After having kids I decided to move away from the fairground and use my skills indoors. In the early 90s, I went back to college and adapted what I had learnt so far to interior design and decorating then started my own business.

I recognised very early on that in the creative industries there is so much effort involved for very little income unless you get the right opportunity. This is such a waste!

So now I have achieved some major creative goals in my life, I have decided that I want to give something back to future generations. A few years ago I inherited some money from my dear old dad and I wanted to leave him a legacy – to give meaning to the money rather than wasting it! There is no point saying you believe in something if you don’t act on your principles and so I am investing it in the future generations of creativity we have right now. We need more than ever to design ourselves a better future and new designers and makers need our support like never before. I want to help them use their skills to have a good and fulfilled life – just like I have been lucky enough to enjoy.

CIDA (Colour in Design Awards) has been created to do just that – and the focus on colour as an element of design is fundamental (but I admit its also a bit selfish because it’s what I’m good at and what I love).

It is clear that colour is a central component and source of inspiration to the companies that support The Colour in Design Award, but why do you think it is so important to design?

We take colour for granted and yet it is fundamental to the success of design. We think of it as decoration but it is SO much more. One of our ‘One to Watch’ winners Aj Choudhury – an industrial product designer from Brunel University – invented a wearable device that tests for dangerously polluted air on walking routes we regularly take to work and school. It changes colour according to the quality of the air. Red for poor and blue/green for good. We all understand this language of colour unconsciously. It demonstrates how colour is a sublime and powerful communicator with a universal language.

It is so interesting to see trends rise and fall, can you tell us more about the affects this has on industry and are there any particular colour palettes that generations tend to be drawn towards?

I hate the word ‘trend’ because it suggests something we are expected to follow rather than being informed and inspired by. Well researched trends are so important for the creative industries and especially design.

They help us to understand the context of the market we are designing for – what it values, needs and wants. If the colour of your beautifully designed product is wrong, it probably won’t sell.

Designers need to understand trends and what they can be used for. In my world of paint we design colour trends for the built environment. My focus on colour in paint may be on walls, but everything that goes into a painted space can be affected and enhanced by an intelligent and considered colour story through other
products. The colour story forms the foundation of the trends and has to reflect what’s happening to us as a global community – otherwise we don’t recognise it, don’t connect with it and won’t use it.

We need to know what people need from the environment they live in, what are they spending money on and what they value? We need to ask, what do people really want from the spaces in which they live and work? In the last five years we have seen less emphasis on having more material stuff and more on meaningful experiences that make us human. We need to live in spaces where we can feel good, relax, switch off and disconnect from the digital world. Times are changing and well-being is at the very heart of good design – it is no longer a nice to have. We need to consider what colours will help people feel better in the spaces they are in (wherever they are) and we a need human centred approach to interior design and product design. Colour can re-connect us with each other and nature. It can be playful, creative, infused with care and truly

Imagine, a world without colour! Tell us, how you would cope? Or how do you think designers would cope with a chromatic life?

    I can’t imagine a word without colour, it is fundamental to existence! Without it we couldn’t tell what is harmful to eat…or how to communicate our individual personality and emotions. How would you express certain parts of your true self without colour? We communicate so much through colour, we send signals with our choice of colour in clothing before we have even spoken. I guess the space without it would be filled up with other senses; sound, touch and smell… I’m struggling though…I actually find it almost impossible to imagine a world without colour.

    Do you have 3 top tips for New Designers entering the creative industry?

    1. Have a vision of where and who your future self wants to be. Don’t imagine success will just happen simply because you are good at something – it won’t. The creative world is similar to the rock business. Creative people work really hard (it’s a given) but even with masses of talent, only a few seem to ‘make it’. Success is not being in the limelight for a few sparkly moments, it’s about putting food on your plate, clothes on your back and a roof over your head with the talents and skills you have been given and honed. It’s a long game and you have to be determined and focus.

    2. Be patient.

    3. Keep shuffling! And don’t stop! You won’t get to where you want to be overnight – but keep creating and keep moving towards your goals. I have shuffled steadily forwards all my life. I have also shuffled down many different creative paths too – but I have always kept moving. One day you will look up and you will be where you wanted to be….you will have won that award, you will have that successful studio, food on your plate, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and you will have got what you wanted.

    In the digital age it just seems like other people are getting there but they are not, they are just like me and you! Don’t aspire for the rock and roll, its an unattainable goal. Work really hard and have visions. I have a bucket list but I don’t have a clear goal, I am earning my living out of creativity and I have climbed the design ladder.

    I have a skill and I have honed it….but it took practice!

    For students about to embark on their final major projects what would be your advice for making the most of their creativity and passion for colour in design?

    I like to see and understand a designers journey of development, however sometimes the work on display is too much journey and not enough destination. My advice would be to present your final designs beautifully and succinctly. Less is often more – so curate your work carefully. Clarity is so important and the final piece needs that ‘OMG’ impact! The most successful displays of final work are simple – they are distinctive, grab your attention and have space to breathe.

    Be simple and be brave.



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