Color permeates every design decision at Hydro Flask, makers of one of the most popular water bottles in North America. Hydro Flask colors are practically iconic and that’s no surprise given the attention color gets in the brand’s creative process. It starts every discussion and completes every design package, whether for the outdoor industry’s water bottle of choice, beer growler or any of the other lines of product from the Bend, Oregon company.
“I would say,” says John Cupit, director of design for Hydro Flask, “color is a conversation or an activity that is ongoing and never stops. We have a wall of color and hundreds and hundreds of different variations we are looking at constantly. We are trying to figure out across our product assortment what is the right application and the right timing. Colors both for men and women, neutrals, some that are bright, some dustier or moodier, we are trying to find the right balance across all of our products.”
Hydro Flask started in 2009 using 100-year-old Stanley thermos technology of a double-wall stainless steel bottle with a vacuum chamber in between leaving a void. This technology keeps beverages hot for six hours, but also keeps water cold for 24 hours. Latching onto the cold-keeping aspect of the technology, the company went for the outdoor market by building a durable product — insulated caps with steel lugs for strength and a powder-coated exterior to eliminate chipping of paint. With technology and durability dialed in, Hydro Flask needed to get noticed.
They used color to make it happen.
“We were pretty innovative in starting off with very bright colors,” Cupit says about the first Hydro Flask colors. The company really started to take off in 2012 and is now found in every major outdoor retailer, often with collaborations with brands like REI, Hurley, Columbia and many more. “Every season we want to bring freshness, newness, excitement to our product line. Color is very important.”
Cupit admits that the vividness of the early Hydro Flask colors helped the brand get noticed on retail shelves, especially in a sea of neutrals popular in the outdoor market. But as the brand has grown, there has been a realization about the reason those neutrals dominate the shelves in outdoor retailers: they remain the most popular colors. So, Hydro Flask offers black, white and graphite (grey), but “we want to compliment those neutrals with forward-thinking colors that aren’t always about bright, but are certainly colorful.”
For Cupit and the team of five designers at Hydro Flask, the color conversation never stops. “It is important that we keep our color philosophy consistent across all product,” he says about the ever-growing product line that stretches far beyond just hydration. “At the same time, we want to bring freshness. If you look at our color palette this season there are 11 to 12 colors available and we want to have consistency year over year, the ones that continue to be popular, and we want to surprise people with four to five newer colors that push people forward.”
Plus, with the design style of the company, color remains a major tenant. “Compare us to maybe the way a lot of folks operate in the outdoor industry, where their products are highly technical, and we have that too but don’t express it through design,” he says. “Simplicity is an important ethos.”
The strategy then remains fairly straightforward, if not complicated in choice. With bottles often showing just the logo and wordmark lockup — special-edition varieties and high-level collaborations are where you find more graphic design — it really does come down to that color to define product design. The in-line bottles offer tried and true colors while bringing a new array each season to offer versatility for the user, whether the beach, the office, the mountain or a night out. “The way we think about collabs and special editions are a little bit different expression,” he says. “I think the designers are able to push the boundaries a little bit more.”
Always on the search for the purest expression of the brand — one that puts a focus on experience with a seamless function and clean presentation — don’t except the design team to lean on shapes, for example, for the sake of styling to mix it up. Instead, everything goes back to what will be next in Hydro Flask colors. While some of the most popular colors change year over year, neutrals still reign supreme with the black, white and graphite filling that need for Hydro Flask. “They always do well, they go with anything,” Cupit says. “We feel that our colors are an expression of a person. They just work and people find they want to compliment those neutral colors with more colorful colors.” Mint has proven popular for years and Flamingo and Blueberry have offered some newfound success. Pacific continues to be one of the best-selling bright colors for Hydro Flask.
Even with some continuity, the design team always plays with tones. A couple of seasons ago, the team went with high chroma colors across the 10 offerings, but then turned the dial back on the likes of Flamingo and Pacific recently to get into “dustier” offerings so that not all the colors fit the high-chroma definition, but offer “moodier” versions, such as Storm, a “very sophisticated moodier blue.”
It isn’t all just about sifting tones, though. Color provides many challenges, whether getting matches across different materials — from TPU handles to lids to the powder-coated exteriors — or while exploring new technology for use in the future. Sampling then comes as imperative in the process. Cupit says the brand has also spent ample time working out its proprietary formula for the powder coating. “There is a nice tactile feel, which is part of our special sauce,” he says. “We like the sheen versus matte we have developed over time.” From durability, to UV protection, the coating has also been “fairly forgiving” on the design standpoint. “We have,” he says, “been able to express what we wanted.”
As the team looks at new options in both technology and design, the question of how far to go in color presents an ever-present challenge. “We have many wild concepts that are on our drawing boards that we are constantly considering, testing different finishes and testing with factories,” Cupit says. As part of the decision-making process, Hydro Flask looks across all industries, from fashion to automotive to architectural, and brings in experts — including one member of the Pantone board — to use as sounding boards to ensure the trends the design team settles on remain consistent with what is going on globally.
“We are about bringing newness and freshness every season,” Cupit says. “We want to lead the color conversation.”
The Hydro Flask colors put this brand in the forefront of their industry. Position yourself along those same lines by joining us at HOW Design Live. You’ll get access to top brand strategists and designers who are creating their iconic, trending visions. Register now!
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.