June 16, 2024


Design with distinction

TRIZ – Color Clarity Changes

“Do you remember when Dr. Yarborough gave me a 9 and you a 10 on that pop quiz?”

“No, not really.”

“The score was out of a 100!! “

“Oh…yeah…now I remember.”

Mitch Culbreath and I had not spoken since college, which had been some 25 years ago. He had googled my name on a whim, found me, and picked up the phone. After we covered the basics: jobs, where we live, pets, and so on, I asked him what his wife did for a living.

He told me she was a “color consultant.”

“A what?”

“Yeah… that’s what all the guys say.”

Roy Williams’ latest project, Thought Particles, is based around the intriguing question; “What is the smallest unit of Thought?”

Only after science had deconstructed matter into its constituent components – its smallest particles – were we able to design substances with the specific characteristics we desired.

Similarly, if we want to design an idea, make an accurate statement, transfer a feeling, capture a mood, paint a mental picture, send a signal, or persuade a person, we must craft a message with specific characteristics. We do this by consciously or unconsciously by arranging the constituent components of thought: thought particles.

That’s really all I want to say about thought particles here; that subject matter could fill many volumes of books. I mention thought particles because the results of this research revealed that we communicate through 12 languages of the mind. One of these languages is color.

Knowing this, I am always curious and intrigued if I can learn more from people who are experts in color. Of course I had to have a chat with Mitch’s wife.

Mitch’s “color consultant” wife’s name is Robin Culbreath and she is the founder of Robin Culbreath Limited. Robin is the creator of TrendLab Report: the foremost consumer lifestyle design trend and color forecast report.

“Mark, I hate to say this, but most men just don’t get what I do. I think it took Mitch nine months before he finally understood. What I do is this; I identify, interpret, and translate consumer lifestyle design trends and color for primarily the home furnishings industry, but others as well.”

As I spent more and more time with Robin, I finally started to understand what she does. She does infinitely more than just “consult on color.” But for our purposes, let’s stick to the color discussion because it is extremely powerful.

Robin looks at trends and predicts what product manufactures should be making a few years in the future, including what colors are going to be hot. Trends can last three to seven years and one of the primary things manufactures can do over these years, to keep the product looking fresh and to give it longevity, is to change its color and manage the color evolution over time. Making color changes to a product is infinitely cheaper than changing the actual design and retooling the product.

You can dramatically extend the life of a product line by changing the product’s color and keeping the look fresh.

Here is a great example that Robin shared with me. 3M Post-it Notes have had the same line of neon colors for years. Robin spent months and months convincing 3M that the Post-it Notes were in dire need of a color face lift. Not everyone likes neon, you know.

She was finally successful in getting her “Sweet Pea” selection of colors approved, but she almost didn’t get one radical new color approved as part of the package. It took many, many meetings to get that final color approved and added into the color selection. Robin had to go all the way to the top of the 3M food chain for approval.

What was this radical new color, you ask?


In her industry they have a popular phrase;

Color sells, but the right color sells better.

The principle of Color/Clarity Changes is usually applied in one of two ways:

1. Change the color of an object or its external environment.

a. i.e. Use safe lights in a photographic darkroom.

2. Change the transparency of an object or its external environment.

a. i.e. Use photolithography to change transparent material to a solid mask for semiconductor processing. Similarly, change mask material from transparent to opaque for silk-screen processing.

In other words, Color/Clarity Change refers to a change in color or transparency.

Clarity and Transparency

Have you ever seen the eyeglasses that change in tint? The tint of the glasses becomes darker when worn outside, to the point that the regular glasses can serve as sunglasses. When you walk back inside, the sunglasses’ transparency increases, and the lenses become clear again. The tint, or transparency, of the glasses adjusts according to the level of lighting in the environment.

Toy manufacturers also utilize transparency when packaging their products. Have you ever had to open a product while standing in the aisle of a department store so that you can see and touch the product inside? Toy manufacturers eventually got smart and designed their packaging so that kids and parents can actually see the toy within the box.

Clarity also plays a role in sports. NASCAR and Motocross drivers use tear away visors to improve their vision clarity on the road. Rather than wiping away the mud and dust from their visors, they just tear away the top layer to create greater clarity.

Clarity does not apply strictly to tangible objects. The Tylenol scare in the early 1980s is a great example of clarity change from a non-technical View Point. After seven consumers died as a result of ingesting potassium-cyanide laced capsules, Tylenol’s management was very transparent and took full responsibility for their actions. Tylenol executives promised to take prompt action to prevent a similar situation from ever occurring again.

Even though the capsules were believed to have been tampered with by an outside source, Tylenol stepped up to the plate and took full responsibility for the deaths. Their transparency and willingness to accept fault for the situation made the fallout far less severe than it could have been.

How did Iomega become a billion dollar company in the 90’s with the Zip Drive? They took existing technology and substituted the boring off-white colored plastic exterior that every other company used with Cobalt Blue.

Color and clarity can make a world of difference in your product or businesses profit and productivity? Can you look through the lens of color and clarity to find a solution for your problem or to improve your product or service? Can you give your product a face lift with color?