“Too much of print design is forgettable because we don’t understand very well how design works … how art works.” This came from John McWade of Lynda.com, the opening keynote at the 2016 Color Conference held in December in Phoenix, and his talk set the stage for a few days of color education and lively discussion among brand owners, designers, printers, color experts and suppliers to the industry.

This was one of the best conferences I attended in 2016. WhatTheyThink was a PIA media partner at this event, and we were there to capture some great video. My personal thanks go to Julie Shaffer, Vice President of Education and Marketing Strategies at Printing Industries of America, for pulling together a fabulous conference, but also for scheduling videos during breaks so I could attend many of the sessions! That’s a luxury I don’t always have at events where we are capturing video.

McWade emphasized the importance of involving the designer on the ground floor of any project, saying: “The client is not always right. The designer is not always right. It is a collaborative effort.” He pointed out that this is important because design is difficult to articulate even if your world views align. This was a theme that resonated through much of the conference.

The conference was a nice mix of high profile keynoters, including one of my favorites, Kristy Cameron, Starbucks' Creative Manager for Brand Expression, and targeted break-out sessions. The event was also a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones, with plenty of networking time which everyone seemed to be taking advantage of.

It was also an opportunity for attendees to catch up on the latest developments in color, including an update on standards and programs that affect color management. Another highlight was the keynote delivered by Ryerson’s Dr. Abhay Sharma and John Seymour, John the Math Guy, on the topic of Extended Color Gamut (or fixed color palette) printing, which has been a hot topic in printing circles all year. While it could have been a bit of a dry subject, they made it fun and interactive. They pointed out that the PANTONE EXTENDED GAMUT Coated Guide released in September of 2015 “really set us forward” on the path to make extended gamut printing more widely adopted. “Its value cannot be underestimated,” Dr. Sharma said. “It has given us a benchmark and the whole framework for extended gamut.”

Meanwhile, Idealliance presented its 4-color XCMYK 4-color expanded gamut printing method, claiming it yields a much wider color gamut than regular 4-colr printing.

There was dissention in the ranks as to which method was best, or whether they were mutually exclusive. In my naivete, I was always thinking that a printer with a 4-color press would have difficulty using ECG, and I believe they would to some extent, but Dr. Sharma was quick to point out that no color in the PANTONE EXTENDED GAMUT Coated Guide requires more than three inks, so a workaround seems to be quite possible.

In any event, there was general agreement at the conference that extended gamut, expanded gamut or fixed color palette printing – whichever term you choose to use – is the next generation or the next wave of printing color.

I also thoroughly enjoyed hearing Steve Decker, the CEO of Zooka Creative, talk about the agency’s work in rebranding the city of Union City, California.  Fascinating! I’ll be visiting the Bay Area later this month and hope to visit them as well as to see some of the new designs in action. His main message in working collaboratively between clients and designers was, “Don’t ask ‘what do you like,’ but ask which designs fit the brand process. He spent a fair amount of time with Union City helping them to articulate what the brand truly represented before even beginning to introduce any design ideas.

Another principle that came out strong and clear during the conference was this, as articulated by Judith Dixon, Vice President of Production at Hornall Anderson, in a fascinating break-out session: “Color influences the perception of the personality of a brand. It is the beacon of the brand, especially vis-à-vis its competitors. Color aids in recognition of the brand and should align with the brand promise.” She used the example of UPS brown as portraying the UPS brand as dependable, along with many other examples.

So while there was still plenty of geeky color stuff going on at the conference, Shaffer and her team have been successful in transforming the conference to be inclusive and to serve a broader community. By better integrating brands and designers into the mix, there is richer content, more opportunity for networking, and a path toward breaking down some of the perceived barriers between the two communities.

I’m up for attending the next one?  How about you?  Attendees expressed a desire to move the conference into January to avoid the year-end craziness, so the next one is scheduled for January 13-16, 2018, at the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay in San Diego. Mark your calendars! We’ll see you there.  Meanwhile, watch for our videos from the conference.