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Choosing Color, Material, and Finish (CMF) carefully can elevate a product’s user appeal. Color evokes emotion, but it’s perception depends highly on material and finish. Materials have distinct functional properties, and colors can be innate or applied through finishing. Finishing processes can alter the appearance of color and material, but must be chosen carefully based on the product cost and the intended use.

Henry Ford once famously said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.” While this stance is certainly streamlined, the unwillingness to accommodate a customer’s desire for choice and design set the company back for years. Customers expect to be drawn in and excited by products, and have a certain level of customization, especially with larger purchases. Presently, color, material, finish (CMF) is a key step in bringing a product to market. We understand how these features attract customers, and how they make or break a customer’s decision to purchase.

The three factors of Color, Material and Finish design play a large role in product design and can be a significantly elevating force. They also are dependent on one another. Any given color can look drastically different on a different material, and any material can look completely different with a different finish. All three variables need to be considered to have a synchronous product design. In this post, we will evaluate the three different variables and investigate the considerations that  take place during the product design process.

Color

Color is the hue and value of a given pigment. Colors evoke emotions, define trends, and set products apart for better or worse. Taking the time and energy to select an appropriate color for your product is an important part of product design. When selecting a color, it is important to consider the other two areas of CMF. The materiality and final finish have a huge impact on perceived color. A glassy finish can add an extra glow, while a textured finish can absorb light or cast shadows to create a darker color.

Material

The material of the product is what the object is constructed from. In product design this can range from plastic, metal, fabric, and beyond. Each material has distinct properties that make it a proper, or improper, match for your product. To have a material meet your product’s aesthetic needs, the versatility of the material to be colored must be considered. Colors can be innate, incorporated in, or applied to materials. The application of color to products is through methods such as painting, printing, anodizing, powder coating, and dying. Each color application method’s success is determined by the properties of the material, resulting in an almost endless combination of outcomes.

Finish

Finish is the manner in which a manufactured product is completed. Finishes range from a  perfectly smooth mirror finish on a car, all the way to intentionally distressed wooden furniture. The range and application opportunities are vast. Some things to keep in mind when selecting a finish option for your product:

  1. Cost. Taking several extra steps to apply a specialized finish can potentially add cost to units. Further specialization often comes with increased concern for consistency.
  2. User experience: Does this finish make sense with my product? Adding a smooth finish to a rugged product may result in unwanted scratching and blemishes. Pick finishes that work cohesively with your users’ needs.

Taking the time to pick colors, material and finishes that work cohesively with your product is essential. Putting thought and intention into CMF will directly translate into a stronger product. Having a synergistic experience between all three variables will elevate the product’s brand story and result in a better outcome. 

GRACE FETZER Industrial Designer
Grace Fetzer
Industrial Designer

A creative product designer, Grace is driven to use her ideation and concept art skills to improve the way humans experience and interact with the world.

B.A. in Industrial and Product Design, Kendall College of Art and Design