Owner, Slank Design, Trend Forecasting
There is more to color than meets the eye. Bloomfield Hills design expert Kelly Slank has turned a passion into a thriving profession over the past 22 years. After building her expertise in various aspects of design at brands like Nike Sportswear, Ford Motor Company and General Motors, she was inspired to launch her own color and materials design consulting and trend forecasting business two years ago.
“Design is a way to use both sides of the brain,” said Slank, also a color and materials instructor at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. “I was always creative, but it wasn’t until I was exposed to what design really means that I realized I could make it into a viable career. Had there been HGTV back in that day, I would have found my path in design much quicker.”
Based in Bloomfield Hills, Slank Design welcomes a wide range of corporate and individual clients seeking color and design direction. Predicting future trends in color, or “color forecasting,” is a skill that Slank said influences everything from fashion apparel and interior, to automotive and product design.
Industry changes: It’s funny, the first things — color and material — that you see on a product or environment have historically been the last things that the designer, architect or consumer would consider. That has changed. Over the past 22 years, I have watched color and material transcend from that of a surface treatment applied during final stages of creation to a catalyst that inspires form and architecture. Brands big and small now kick off product, color and material design at the same time.
Professionally speaking: Other creatives inspire me at work. Approach and methodology are unique to each artist or designer. I find the style and work among others fascinating. It inspires me to look at my own work differently and reignites my passion for design.
Design today: Design is comprised of three interrelated parts — color, material and trend. I look globally at what’s happening in the world on the art, fashion and social scenes. I look at runway and material shows in Paris and throughout the world. You ignore obvious trends. It’s about finding those little [design] nuggets like the color Acid Yellow. When you start to see those little blips coming to the surface, that’s forecasting.
Industry players: In the industry, there are individuals like me and also big companies like Pantone that set standards for paint and textiles, but also forecast color trends. Pantone forces the trend with a color of the year. Companies also set trends. Like Nike, for example, can really pick a color for its brand and that color becomes a trend.
Expert advice: I recently found great inspiration at a furniture show in Milan.
You see many grays and silvers today on automotive and product design. I always tell my students that it’s really important to find your own voice, and color can really inspire a lot of emotion. Deciding how you want to feel when you’re in a room, how you want your guests to feel when they come in … there are a few defining words that you want to choose to describe your home before color comes into play. Is it cool and clean or warm and inviting?
Career thoughts: I am lucky to love what I do. I have genuine passion for color, materials, design — and the individuals who do it for a living. Over the years, my focus has shifted from product to people. I now find mentoring and teaching young designers just as rewarding as creating product. It’s all about balance. Have a plan, but be flexible. Be meticulous, but allow yourself to make mistakes. Work hard, but don’t take yourself too seriously.
Life in Oakland County: It is all about the house. My husband and I have a great mid-century modern home that we love. My favorite place to visit is Oahu’s North Shore. It’s my happy place.
My perfect day: My perfect day is any day that involves creating or being inspired. One of my favorite days of the year is Super Bowl Sunday. I turn down all party invites, stay home and work on some elaborate Valentine’s Day craft.
What most people don’t know about me: I am a trained [but not practicing] yoga instructor. It has been about 10 years since I have taught anyone other than friends or family. NS
Interviewed by Andrea Zarczynski
Photographed by Jerry Zolynsky