This week an article in Fast Company purported to answer the question “Why so many new products for adults look like they were made for little kids.” The author suggests that colorful products embody an aesthetic he refers to as Juvenile Design (self-important capitals and all), and wonders: “Why are we returning in droves to high-end facsimiles of the things we used to play with as children?”
Can I be blunt? This is the wrong question.
To ask this question in this way assumes that the default design style for most objects (monochrome, unadorned, bland) is the correct design style. It suggests that most adults should prefer their consumer products in some form of grayscale. And that any other preference is some kind of deviation that needs to be explained.
Why Colorful Tech Isn’t Just For Kids
The idea that color is “juvenile” and a form of nostalgia is fairly common, but it only makes sense if you’re unaware that our consumer landscape looks the way it does because of deep cultural biases. Color isn’t inherently childish. On the contrary, many adults love color but have been made to feel like it’s childish, unsophisticated, primitive, or silly. This bias dates back hundreds of years. As Goethe wrote in his Theory of Colors in 1810:
Savage nations, uneducated people, and children have a predilection for vivid colors… people of refinement avoid vivid colors in their dress and the objects that are about them, and seem inclined to banish them altogether from their presence.Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
That color isn’t just for children is a given in many countries around the world, from India to Mexico to the Democratic Republic of Congo (where men known as sapeurs routinely wear three piece suits in eye-popping hues, and the ability to wear color well is a sign of high style). No, the aversion to color in Western societies can be traced to the colonialist drive to repress expressions of emotion (dancing, loud music, expressive gestures, and color), as an attempt to distance themselves from the cultures they sought to rule over. Embodying “reason” over emotion fed the colonizers’ delusion of superiority, allowing them to justify their conquests as an attempt to civilize the savages.
why most products lack color
Our chromophobic consumer landscape is a direct consequence of five centuries of conditioning that says that muted equals elevated. It’s not surprising then that the tastemakers who determine what products are available to the mass market have consigned color to children’s products and limited what’s on offer to adults to black, white, and gray. In most categories, colorful items have only been available for children, reinforcing the false impression that color is for kids. The truth is that people of all ages naturally love color but have been urged to suppress that affection by the exact worldview that has given us a marketplace full of grey-beige shlock.
It’s telling that the FastCo piece quotes Alex Onsager, cofounder of colorful tool company Character, as saying that “neutrals have been the least popular so far,” and Shiza Shahid, founder of Our Place, noting that the first run of their pink-hued Wonder Oven quickly sold out. When we actually give people a choice to have color, they take it and don’t look back.
Viewed through this lens, the “trend” of more colorful consumer products is less a nostalgic fad and more a shedding of pretense. It’s a return to natural inclinations, a restoration of something that has been stripped out of the world. Something that people desperately want put back.
Color theorist Johannes Itten once said, “Color is life, for a world without color appears to us as dead.”
Maybe buying colorful things isn’t a way of going back to childhood. Maybe it’s a way of coming back to life.
11 Colorful Devices to make your life less monochrome
Technology has historically been one of the dullest sectors of the consumer products world. Even when you can furnish your home with vibrant paints and colorful furnishings, you still get stuck filling your shelves with gray speakers, stainless steel toasters, and black wireless routers. Tech sticks out like a sore thumb in most well-designed spaces, so much so that it’s often removed by the prop stylists for magazine photo shoots so that it doesn’t clutter up the glamour shots.
But there’s no reason gadgets can’t be joyful. Smeg and Kitchenaid have been offering up colorful kitchenware for years. So in this post, I’m sharing a range of devices that give a vibrant look to technology. In this collection, you’ll find objects that are bright, welcoming, and whimsical — qualities we all deserve, no matter how old we are.
Minix Washing Machines
Minix is a Korean company that makes devices for small space living. Their mini 4-in-1 washer dryer comes in a vibrant palette of highlighter yellow, terracotta orange, and bright turquoise. Searches show these machines might be a little tricky to get your hands on in the US. But hopefully, that will change someday soon.
Hay Sowden Toaster
Danish manufacturer Hay has no fear of color, which is why their foray into devices is so welcome. Their Sowden line includes an electric kettle, juicer, and toaster, all with smart colorblocked palettes that toe the tricky line between joyful and sophisticated.
Casa Blanca Contax Camera
French Sportswear brand Casa Blanca reimagined the Contax G2 with a whimsical housing clad in primary colors. If you need evidence that people are craving color, look no further: this limited edition camera was priced at 7500 euros each and quickly sold out.
Our Place Wonder Oven
This 6-in-1 combination between a toaster, air fryer, and steam oven has had its looks compared to an Easy Bake Oven. But its small size is more a function of practicality than aesthetics. Designed to work for city dwellers and minimize countertop clutter, the Wonder Oven comes in four muted colors, including a limited edition orangey-pink.
When my dad insisted on replacing my decade-old plastic kettle, he suggested one of these smart kettles by Fellow, which lets you control the water temperature for different beverages. As a green tea drinker, I appreciate being able to set the kettle to an exact 180° with the turn of a dial.
I get a kick out of the fact that the smoke green color perfectly matches our newly painted kitchen. But it also comes in colors like pale pink, deep blue, and pale yellow.
Akuko Labs Keyboard
Fully obsessed with this Gestalt keyboard designed by Timothy of Akuko Labs. Not 100% sure I’ll know what I’m typing, but you’re not supposed to look at the keys anyway, right? You can sign up on their site to know when this product will be available to ship.
And for more colorful keyboards, see here.
Superkomma Conecto Water Filter
Superkomma’s Conecto water filter breaks with convention by using folded metal and a color palette of blue, brown, orange, and yellow to yield an appearance unlike any other water filter. Though just a concept at this stage, this clever design puts both joy and sustainability at its center.
Teenage Engineering Bluetooth Speaker
If we’re talking about colorful electronics, the one name we can’t ignore is Teenage Engineering. This Swedish company creates highly imaginative devices for people who love sound and music. Think synthesizers, speakers, drum machines, etc. Teenage Engineering products look nothing like mainstream electronics, but they don’t look like toys either. Their colors, patterns, dials, and knobs borrow conventions from many different fields of art and design, proving that functional objects can be a source of delight.
This sunny yellow 24-hour clock has been made by a small Hong Kong company since 1968. The retro style makes it a nice choice for those who are overloaded on the anodyne aesthetic of modern tech, bringing warmth to a home office or kitchen.
Hay for Sonos One
Hay strikes again with this collaboration with speaker manufacturer Sonos. While this collaboration was only for a limited time, some items remain available on the secondary market. I have more than a little regret for not jumping on the yellow ones while I had the chance!
Sproos Shower Heads
A yellow shower head? Why not! Sproos shower heads are designed to be affordable and easily installed so that renters can upgrade their bathrooms with minimal hassle. I definitely would’ve put one of these in my place when I was first starting to rent. One model even includes a magnetic phone stand so you can scroll while you wash.
Images courtesy of the respective companies mentioned in this post.