Pixel art: How designers created the new Pixel 6 colors

During a recent visit to Google’s Color, Material and Finish (better known as CMF) studio, I watched while Jess Ng and Jenny Davis opened drawer after drawer and placed object after object on two white tables. A gold hoop earring, a pale pink shell — all pieces of inspiration that Google designers use to come up with new colors for devices, including the just-launched Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

“We find inspiration everywhere,” Jenny says. “It’s not abnormal to have a designer come to the studio with a toothbrush or some random object they found on their walk or wherever.”

The CMF team designs how a Google device will physically look and feel. “Color, material and finish are a big part of what defines a product,” Jess, a CMF hardware designer, says. “It touches on the more emotional part of how we decide what to buy.” And Jenny, CMF Manager for devices and services, agrees. “We always joke around that in CMF, the F stands for ‘feelings,’ so we joke that we design feelings.”

The new Pixel 6 comes in Sorta Seafoam and Kinda Coral, while the Pixel 6 Pro comes in Sorta Sunny and Cloudy White, and both are available in Stormy Black. Behind those five shades are years of work, plenty of trial and error…and lots and lots of fine-tuning. “It’s actually a very complex process,” Jenny says.

Made more complex by COVID-19. Both Jenny and Jess describe the color selection process as highly collaborative and hands-on, which was difficult to accomplish while working from home. Designers aren’t just working with their own teams, but with those on the manufacturing and hardware side as well. “We don’t design color after the hardware design is done — we actually do it together,” Jenny says. The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro’s new premium look and feel influenced the direction of the new colors, and the CMF team needed to see colors and touch items in order to select and eliminate the shades.

They don’t only go hands-on with the devices, they do the same with sources of inspiration. “I remember one time I really wanted to share this color because I thought it would be really appropriate for one of our products, so I ended up sending my boss one of my sweaters through a courier delivery!” Jenny says. “We found creative workarounds.”


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