Color, Material, Finish.

Posted on July 21, 2010


Industrial designers have CMF responsibilities, but do they even know what CMF is?

“CMF is a specialized area of design that focuses on color, material and finish development. This involves trend research, materials and processes R&D, analysis, strategy and lots of creative thinking.” -Reiko

The Design Critic speaks with Reiko Morrison, a CMF consultant directly responsible for the look and feel of the Microsoft Xbox 360.

Reiko Morrison, CMF Consultant

Reiko’s fascination with CMF started when she was about 9 years old. Her dad asked her what kind of hobby she would like, and at the time, rocks fascinated her. “I said that I wanted to collect rocks, he looked shocked and didn’t really know how to respond, he just said….”o-k”. But the next day, he came home with a rocks and minerals encyclopedia and from there I started learning about materials and finishes.”

The Design Critic: Hi Reiko, you said you worked on the Xbox 360?
Reiko Morrison:
I worked with O2studio as a consultant on the Xbox 360. That was a truly amazing experience and was the first project I worked on that was solely CMF focused. I have been specializing in CMF ever since.

Here is some of her work for the Xbox 360:

Xbox 360 Trend Research and Color Proposals

Xbox 360 Final Production

The Design Critic: In the context of today’s industrial design education, many students are focusing on creating beautiful forms. If students were to follow in your footsteps in CMF and set themselves apart from their peers, what would your advice be?
Reiko Morrison: Experiment, be inquisitive and do as much research as possible. When I was in school, CMF was not even mentioned so I had no idea it existed. I explored this area because I found it interesting.

“Designers must be willing to get their hands dirty and play in order to discover the unexpected.”

For my senior thesis, I wanted to paint a model with a pearlescent finish. I contacted suppliers who sent me samples to experiment with and I started mixing. I sprayed some clear acrylic rods with the pearlescent clear coat and it ended up having a very intriguing effect when the light was positioned just right on the rods. The rods looked like they were lit up from the inside but it was just how the pearlescent pigments were diffracting the light. Experiments like this are what excites me and are what I thrive on.

TDC: How much did you learn about CMF in school?
RM: While schooling, I was employed by Ron Rezek Lighting where I worked my way up from a design intern to design assistant. I learned about the processes and finishes they used (sand/die casting, metal spinning, blown glass, extrusions, anodizing, powder coating). I gained more knowledge about CMF from this real world experience than I did in school. I would suggest seeking out work experiences that would provide exploration into CMF.

TDC: In terms of learning, how are things different now that you are a professional?
Even as a professional, I am constantly learning about new materials, finishes and processes. Meeting with suppliers is a must. I try to learn as much as I can about their processes. I ask them if they have tried other things, throw ideas at them to see what would be possible. I think people in the manufacturing world are very regimented and need to stick to what works in order for them to run a business. But for designers to implement innovation, we need to bring creativity to the table and help manufacturers think outside of their box. Often, they are willing to experiment if budget permits.

RM: One of the main reasons I have a job is because many times, this exploration is left until the last minute which leaves no time for experimenting so the same convention is used from before.

“If this cycle continues, nothing evolves, innovation would not exist, all speaker cabinets would be square boxes.”

Companies realize they need to differentiate their products and the CMF profession helps them realize that in order to create differentiation, the work needs to be done and it needs to happen in the front end of the design development cycle. As soon as the industrial design kicks off, the CMF should also begin. This allows for the proper research and development to happen. So while in school, I would suggest thinking about CMF as soon as the concept development starts, as soon as the sketching begins. That way there is time to get feedback, do some research and refine ideas.

TDC: What is your advice for graduates who are looking for a job?
RM: Right now there are not a lot of CMF jobs, the profession is still very young. Some spend more time on CMF, others do not. If this is an area of interest for someone, I would suggest working for a company that recognizes the importance of CMF and builds it into the process.

My first job out of school was at Ashcraft Design (Los Angeles). I was put in charge of the color and material library because “females are more in tune with colors and materials”. I don’t agree with that line of thinking but am thankful I was given that responsibility. I organized the library, researched and met with suppliers. Having proven myself as an expert in materials and finishes, I was given projects that required CMF attention.

After Ashcraft, I landed a job at Hauser Design which at the time was the largest consultancy in Los Angeles. I went to the head of the CMF department and expressed interest in helping her with any of her projects. I was able to continue learning about CMF and got my first peek into trend and consumer research. I took that knowledge and decided to start my own business when Hauser had to close it’s doors.

TDC: In your job as a CMF consultant, where do you draw your ‘inspiration’ from? Fashion industry, new materials and technology or something else?
RM: I research fashion, fashion accessories, architecture, interiors, interior accessories, consumer products, sporting goods, automotive, graphics, and packaging on the internet as well as on television, magazines, through travel or just being an observer and soaking in as much information wherever I go.

I also spend time researching new materials and technologies that might not necessarily be in mass production on consumer products. Information is endless on the internet but I also try to attend as many tradeshows as possible since many new technologies are debuted there before going online.New technologies can be most exciting to watch develop.

TDC: What kind of qualities would you look for if you were hiring a CMF specialist?
RM: Inquisitive and they need to have that internal motivation to learn as much about things as they can. They need to be able to collect large amounts of information and be able to organize it so that it can be accessed quickly for presentations. Presentation skills are paramount. In the CMF business, in order to gain credibility, the presentation must be seamless. The information has to be clear and concise.

Strong analytical skills are needed in order to distill all of the collected information into clear, concise descriptions. There are a lot of people that just don’t get why CMF is important to the success of a product. So we need to be the convincing force, we need to explain why CMF can make and impact and get people excited about the potentials.

Thanks Reiko and all the best!

More CMF work:

Belkin iPod Case Color Trend Research

Belkin iPod Case Color Proposals

HTC Trend Forecast and Sample Direction for Taiwan Design Team

Belkin N52 Gaming Device - Final Production

-The Design Critic

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