Color Consultant? Color Expert? Color Psychologist? Who Does What in the World of Color Professionals

There are a lot of terms out there for people who work with color. So many that it can easily make your head spin. I thought it was time to go over the titles that color professionals give themselves and explain what these titles mean, how they differ and how to know what you're getting - or should be getting - when you hire us for a job.

Color Consultant
A Color Consultant will consult on a project working with paint and other materials for a home or business. Most often the projects are architectural, but color consulting can also cross into product design, graphic design, branding and even fashion design/consulting. An individual who calls themselves a Color Consultant working on architectural projects should have color training beyond a single course in color theory, and should, at the very least, understand paint and the effects of lighting on color perception. But this is not always the case. Anyone can call themselves a Color Consultant.

There are various color training programs available in the U.S. One such program is taught through the International Association of Color Consultants, North America. This organization trains its members in applied color psychology and human response to color. The goal of the IACC-NA is "to use color in a more effective way and create more human, user-supported environments through the educated application of color." (For me, the IACC-NA has provided a wealth of invaluable information and has allowed me to take my color consulting and design services to an entirely new level.)

Architectural Color Consultant
A Color Consultant who specializes in architectural projects. Projects can be commercial or residential; interior or exterior. Rachel Perls of Hue Consulting used to refer to herself as a Color Consultant but found that the title was too vague - she would sometimes be confused as a hair colorist or a wardrobe consultant. "Architectural" clearly implies that the individual works with buildings and that he or she has some sort of professional color and design background.

Additionally, an Architectural Color Consultant can assist with branding and company identity. Sound funny? An office building is a huge representation of a company's image. It's impossible to select colors for a business - interior or exterior - without having an impact on brand identity. And, for brand consistency, a company should consider their logos, website, etc. when approaching colors. It can be tricky to re-interpret company colors architecturally, hence the need for an Architectural Color Consultant. 

Color Designer
This term is used interchangeably with Color Consultant. Color Designer implies that a design education or experience is part of the individual's training, whether interior design, graphic design, textile design, etc.

Color Expert 
A Color Expert is essentially a Color Consultant who is trained beyond basic color theory. This person should have significant practical experience with color and some sort of formal color training under their belt. Maybe the training can be substituted with extensive self-study, but this is difficult because of the preponderance of inaccurate color information. A Color Expert should be able to separate color myths from color facts and should also be able to speak about color in various disciplines. There should be a deep understanding of the psychological, biological, and cultural aspects of color and the knowledge should be applied in a practical sense, as well as theoretically.

Color Specialist
Pretty much the same as Color Expert, although this title can be confused with an individual who specializes in hair color.

Color Strategist 
A Color Strategist is very similar to a Color Expert, if not the same. Approaching color from an holistic angle, this individual is most likely trained in many different color disciplines, and uses the combined skills of a designer and a planner to reach a very specific set of goals on each project.


Color Psychologist
In the U.S and Canada, it is unlawful to use the term "Psychologist" as part of a professional title unless you are licensed in psychology, or are working in certain sectors of the government or academia. Therefore, you probably won't see this title too often. And if you do, you might want to do a little research to check out the individual's credentials. (If any of you know about a licensed Color Psychologist, please share!)

Just because there is a rarity of Color Psychologists doesn't mean that there aren't any individuals who are trained in color psychology. There certainly are. Again, members of the IACC-NA, for example, are trained in applied color psychology. And some design schools offer courses in color psychology as part of their curriculum. But much of this color psychology education is questionable, and, oftentimes, it is this "education" that is responsible for perpetuating color myths. 

Currently, there is not a division of the American Psychological Association devoted strictly to color psychology, although there is a division for Environmental Psychology. Hopefully, in the future, color psychology will be given its own division and own set of standards and will be taken more seriously within our education system.

Color Forecaster
A color professional who focuses on color trends, mostly for marketing and branding purposes. Typically a Color Forecaster works with companies and marketing/advertising agencies on product development and branding.

Color Scientist
Someone who (most likely) has an advanced degree in Color Science and has studied color in the following disciplines: physics, chemistry, physiology, computer science, psychology and statistics. Color Science is defined by Rochester Institute of Technology's Munsell Color Science Laboratory as "the quantification of our perception of color."  Currently, RIT is the only graduate school in the U.S. devoted to the science of color. 

Colorist
An individual who works on color in motion pictures, commercials, etc. (This is fascinating, really, but too complex for me to get into. Anyone who is interested in everything a colorist is responsible for should check out this website, Final Color.) A colorist can also be an individual who adds color to comic books after the black and whites have been drawn. 

Interior Designer
There is a general belief that an Interior Designer and a Color Consultant have the same skill-set and experience when it comes to color. This is not necessarily the case. As a design professional who has been through a Bachelor program in Interior Design, I can confidently say that my education in Interior Design did not prepare me properly to be a Color Consultant...and definitely did not make me a Color Expert. Did I spec colors for projects before I went through the IACC-NA program? Certainly! That has always been part of my job as a designer. But did I do it well? Let's just say there was room for improvement...and there still is. There always will be. That's the thing about color. You'll never have all the answers because color experiences are infinite.

With that said, as long as an Interior Designer is aware of this, I think they can be amazing Color Consultants. A good designer will know that color changes under different lighting, that different clients have different preferences, and that different colors will create different moods. They will be willing to look at each projects' color design independently and objectively and will help their client find the right solutions for particular problems. If an Interior Designer starts spouting color "rules" and claims to have the perfect beige that works in any space - or if their designs are overwhelmingly devoid of color - their color knowledge is probably quite limited and the project might require a Color Consultant with more specialized color training. Interior Designers - it's ok! We're happy to help! There's room for all of us.

Interior Decorator
Essentially the same as an Interior Designer with regards to color training. The main difference could be that an Interior Designer (assuming they've gone through design school, but that's not always the case) has been educated in color theory, whereas an Interior Decorator usually has no formal design or color training.


Whew! I'm exhausted!!! This is all so confusing, isn't it? Does anyone else have anything to add? Did I miss a color professional title? Or, have I unfairly misrepresented anyone? Please add your two-cents! There are so many exceptions to what I've written here, but we've gotta start somewhere. 



If you are interested in color and interior design services, please call me at 650.867.3896, or shoot me an email at kelly@artestyling.com to discuss your project.