You can make it in any color, as long as it's black.

Hi all,

Any suggestions on how to approach color selection for a product? In this case, it’s a medical product that’s typically thought of as black, but we have an opportunity to step outside of the box. The product typically lasts 3-5 years before it is replaced.

Are there any research methods available? Color trending methods? Does color selection ownership typically belong to industrial design, or is more of a marketing role?

I have been thinking that the best option may be to create samples and display them at tradeshows for feedback.

For medical purposes, color choices is more tricky than others. Looking sanitary is probably optimal (that’s why most equipments are white), blood red’s probably out of the question :confused: , etc… In the end if you can defend your choice then that’s what matters.

There’s a group of people that gather annually that “predicts” the upcoming color trends.

colour is very important, it isnt about defending it, its about the context in which the product will be used and how the colour will influence the end user’s perception of it.

WGSN is a great resource, but pricey and primarily trend driven.
CMG as mentioned is a good resource as well.
You can also work with CMF specialists and consultants to meet these needs if you don’t have the competence internally, they will more than likely have access and / or membership to the resources mentioned and should have experience and insight in contextualizing approriate Colors, Materials, and Finishes per your product application. In my experience, when there is no CMF specific group or consultant, ID makes reccomendations (often with some input from marketing) and Marketing will make the decision of what to show to the buyers and trade, who dictate what goes on the shelves to the consumers.

Another more fun/less scientific/intellectual site is

The only products I can think of immediately are the otoscopes (I worked on an otoscope project in school). There are some of them that use a tan color but pretty much all black or regular metalic chrome like finish. Not sure why, maybe different colors would make them less intimidating to the kids.

I’d say its time to do some user research.

qualitative, quantitative, and user observation

theres no easy answer here, other than “white, blue, or blue green”

I am presently doing a color test for a medical device. Colors were chosen to represent 5 catagories - traditional, patient comfort, caretaker signal, brand reinforcement and next gen.

Brand reinforcement and traditional are what they sound like. Patient comfort is taking into consideration the psychological aspect of how a patient/family deals with their disease state. Caretaker signal is to give nurses/docs/etc. the ability to quickly know the patient status. And next gen is to go through the color trending information and applying it to the circumstances. The color choices within the 5 catagories can overlap, but we have defined in that manner and the research will help define the catagories/colors further.

The testing is pretty quick, easy and typical. First a preference rank. Then an overall like/dislike rank. And finally, associations with each color. It takes 5-10 minutes with a customer (decision makers and influencers).

As a side, black? Typically with the devices I have worked on, black = death. Usually not the first color I would use. Ironically, for the survey I am doing now, at this time, black is ahead. Hoodathunkit.

It’s been my experience that color schema on medical products is not very important, with big caveat. I know that’s anathema to design at any level or stage but here’s why, depending on scenario.

The purchaser is an institution. Where color scheme specifically contributes beneficially to function then an institutional decision maker may be influenced to recommend to purchasing your model over competitor’s.

Generally with medical products there’s no element of choice in use, therefore color as a marketing tool is irrelevant. I.e. you don’t choose to use that aspirator, splint, surgical stapler, oxygen cart, etc.

The big caveat sort of contradicts my points above. These points apply assuming the company has a coherent color scheme in place. I have experienced competing medical device companies with coherent product design colour schema outperform companies with poor or inconsistent color schema. Similarly, medical device companies that redevelop new, coherent color scheme for existing and new products seem to very quickly improve sales.

In my 20+ years experience in this area I’d say 99% of medical products are (near)white with select accent color(s).

Manufacturability may affect color choice. Many medical products are low volume, custom coloring is expensive for anything other than painting and printing. There may also be performance issues; light therapy devices may require black.

It’s a different scenario if the medical device is personal owned, home use and travel. In this case I would collect samples of competitor products as well as similar medical or therapeutic devices and make presentation of any format for study.

Color trending is still not too important as these medical products are usually long term use, even for life, often in private. Devices targeted for children almost universally maintain the bright color meme, for no defensible reason I’ve ever discovered.

I tend to think color trending overall for any medical device is irrelevant due to the choice issue: you have to have it vs. want or desire. The device is prescribed or recommended or often chosen based on what your pharmacy stocks. They are usually used in private.

Overall my experience is that any coherent simple color scheme is fine for medical products. Cogent arguments can be made for white+accents or bright colors. For medical products, due to lack of choice in use, I do not believe in the color as communicating emotion as important design or marketing tool or argument. As long as it’s coherent, and the user interface is well layed out, colors, text, icons, etc.


Existing brand guidelines
Design strategy for the program
Target users & buyers, influencers
Context of use
Functional requirements including hazards
Color-meanings (medical & cultural)

Pier, I do mean this respectfully, but it seems to me that your logical explanation of why color is unimportant in medical equipment underscores why most of it is so ugly and unattractive.

I am an industrial designer and have been receiving ongoing medical treatment the past six months. It is scandalous to me to see the amount of medical equipment that is ugly and poorly designed, and to interact with it on a daily basis - and don’t even get me started on the the interior environments. It makes me furious.

If designers continue to reason away the importance of aesthetics in the design of medical equipment, then we will only have more of the same.

I realize I am being idealistic, and worse, I can’t offer a solution to the very real marketplace hurdles, but still, it needs to be said.

your logical explanation of why color is unimportant in medical equipment underscores why most of it is so ugly and unattractive.


similar example…
in a SAAB I used to own and heavily modify, I had to replace the Bypass Valve for the turbo since mine went out one day. I had the choice between two valves. Both are placed in the same spot in the engine bay and perform the same exact task at the same performance level. Both are completely hidden when you look in the engine bay. You would have to take about 20 minutes removing wires and tubing to even get a GLIMPSE of the Bypass Valve.

One is black plastic and costs $25
One is forged aluminum and costs $150

Which one do you think I chose? Even knowing I would never “see” it again.

Same idea if I were to get a replacement valve in my heart, if both valves were exactly the same but one looked great, I’d pick the better looking one.

And if two XRays machines that were exactly the same were being used to take preliminary XRays before surgery, and one looked better, I’d choose the better looking machine.

Congrats on throwing away $125.

jjello: could the reason you find it ugly depend on your state of mind while being in the hospital? The iPod looks pretty medical, I bet you’d find it ugly if the nurse used one to monitor your blood pressure, right after inserting a catheter into your urethra. Context and association is what aesthetics is all about. But I too realize I’m being idealistic.

Stijl: Certainly, the priority in this design is on functionality. Therefore, I think sanitary concerns would be the most important thing for color and texture.

To add to what Taylor says: if you are a designer and don’t think a product looking good is important, please leave the profession. This is the base of everything we do.

You assume a false leap in logic from my critique of a singular design element to “If designers continue to reason away the importance of aesthetics in the design of medical equipment…”. I am reasoning away the introduction of colour, not aesthetics, in medical products design as analogy of emotion, not the importance of colour itself.

I fully support development and aesthetic design of medical products, I’ve done it for many years, I’m doing it today, I’ve published articles on this subject.

Maybe I wasn’t clear enough emphasizing my caveat: “assuming the company has a coherent color scheme in place.” Too many companies do not and are often the ones producing the ugly devices; companies that do often have sufficient design awareness and colour exercises, as emotion, become irrelevant. If your scenario is the former, I support any colour exercise you and your team go through.

A problem, and in my experience I’ve seen this more than once, companies may develop one new product under your beautiful design and colour scheme, then ignore it on subsequent products, or change it, sometimes partially, adding label or similar from previous products.

A lot of medical equipment is ugly because it was developed without benefit of industrial design. Some of it is ugly as its function is complex and resolving spatial interelationships in a coherent, aesthetic design is sacrificed at the alter of cost, time and future product iterations tacked on with no design input. Distressing, but it happens frequently.

Most hospital and clinic interiors are design disaster’s. I think they are leftovers from being built and furnished decades ago, and their limited budgets. Some new hospitals and clinics are different, showing more design awareness.

Thank the sweet baby jeebus you are not a caregiver. I prefer my medical care to be determined by outcomes, many established by peer-reviewed comparative efficacy studies. But hey, if you like the blue one, can I get a front seat at your funeral?

That said, aesthetics can play a part in safety and efficacy. Its my belief they can increase compliance. But it is only a belief. I have yet to find a company to pay the couple hundred thousand it would take to prove it.

Congrats on throwing away $125.

That car won 1st place in the world in its class that year. Maybe something to do with using quality / great looking parts that were designed well?

if you are a designer and don’t think a product looking good is important, please leave the profession. This is the base of everything we do.

I prefer my medical care to be determined by outcomes, many established by peer-reviewed comparative efficacy studies. But hey, if you like the blue one, can I get a front seat at your funeral?

As mentioned…
if both valves were EXACTLY the same but one looked great, I’d pick the better looking one.

With medical devices, there is a huge factor of the consumer’s opinion of the device(s) being used. Sure, they should believe they work, because they should work. But if they’re afraid of the device(s) or think it looks hideous to the extent that it doesn’t work, its going to play a part in their recovery. Mind over matter. Especially when there is no actual difference in the performance of the device.

What if a scalpel is finished with a coating that looks exactly like rust and dried blood? It could be JUST as sterile, just as sharp, affect nothing, maybe even make it perform BETTER. Patients would be running out of the surgery room.

We’re talking simple ideas for simple people here.

If you can’t wrap your head around it, as suggested, leave the profession.

“It doesn’t need to look better… Lets just leave it ugly” - is the precisely the opinion you’re taking.

When you go to the dealership to buy a BRAND NEW car, and you pop the hood open, do you want to see a rusty exhaust manifold? No, of course not. Truth is, a rusty exhaust manifold will perform the same as one that is not.

Should there be oil on top of the valve cover? Of course not. It will perform the same. You’re not eating off of the valve cover are you?

For that matter, car companies are adding super designey plastic covers that cover the entire engine to the naked eye. It looks like you’re viewing the heart of the Star Ship Enterprise. To those who know engines, they’re wondering - “where is the engine?”. Why cover it? To those who don’t know engines, they think it looks pretty, simple, easy, looks like nothing will break, nothing to fix ever, “look its just smooth plastic with a logo on it! cool! my car must be fast!”

If you required a hole in your throat to breathe, and you had the option to have it totally visible, or invisible, what would you choose?

And if the device performing the procedure looked like this…

or this…

and both performed EXACTLY alike… which would you choose? Come on.

Perception is value.
Perception is recovery.
Perception is design.

There’s this hair treatment this guy invented which started off as a modified plastic dome hair dryer you see in hair salons. He eventually got an ID to redesign it and became something like a fancy Lazy Boy looking equipment. Even though it doesn’t serve any more function, business boomed since now people were more willing to pay for the hair treatment costs since it now looked like they were getting more out of the experience. It looks more elegant and relaxing, therefore the technology behind it must be cutting edge, I’m being charged a lot so I want the best and most modern equipment used on me

It doesn’t matter what the inside is, if the outside (casing) looks “fancy” then people will feel safer. Same goes with a chromed out valve, same goes with medical equipment, same goes with color choices…

Exactly…now my question is…why as professional industrial designers are we bickering over this thought process?

I have said it many times on this forum - Industrial Designers are their own worst enemy.

IP: Designer rhymes with whiner