Trend Watch: Color Blocking & Digital Design

Microsoft Surface makes use of a cool color palette.

If you’ve watched any TV this holiday season, you have likely seen the commercials for Surface, Microsoft’s answer to the Apple iPad. The Surface screen is full of sliding multicolored “buttons” of varying sizes that are bright and dynamic, and many of the print ads feature different colored versions of the tablets themselves.

This emphasis on blocks of color is – you guessed it – the trend known as color blocking. A few years ago, color blocking was forecast as a web design trend, but its use by a powerhouse like Microsoft means it has officially arrived on the digital landscape.

Most people recognize color blocking from fashion design, in which blocks of fabrics are sewn together to create clothing from a few different solid colors. But the trend’s roots are actually steeped in art.

Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red by Piet Mondrian

De Stijl, a Dutch artistic movement founded in 1917, focused on the essentials of form and color, attempting to simplify art to vertical and horizontal directions and only using primary colors, black and white. Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian were some of the most influential proponents of the De Stijl movement.

Rythme 1938 – Sonia Delaunay

Before De Stijl, though, was Sonia Delaunay. A Jewish-French artist, Delaunay cofounded Orphism in 1911. Orphism focuses on the significance and sensation of pure color and geometric shapes. And couldn’t that be a description of the Surface marketing plan?

But there are other modern examples of color blocking in art and advertising. Target used color blocking in a holiday mailer this season, and USA Today couched their recent redesign in the color blocking tradition. Modern artists Craig Redman and Karl Maier even created a color-blocked underground parking garage in Sydney, Australia.

Have you experienced color blocking yet in your digital life? See if you can spot it. You’ll probably see a lot more of it next year, which means 2013 is looking bright.

Parking lot a la Willy Wonka.